With the 75-year anniversary celebration of Myrtle Beach under way, I thought it would be appropriate to share a story about life on the Grand Strand before Myrtle Beach became not only a vacation destination but also a place where northerners flocked to call home. My mother’s family has been here for decades, so I thought who better to tell the story than my Aunt Charlotte Jones? Here is her account of what life was like growing up on the Grand Strand many years ago.
Elizabeth “Monk” Vereen Eason grew up on the land surrounding Atlantic Avenue in Garden City and Eric Eason grew up in Murrells Inlet on Waccasaw Road. They married and became the proud parents of Charlotte in 1954.
Charlotte grew up in Garden City on family land that has and always will stay in our bloodline. Their home was located where the former Pink Pony stands today. Her dad ran a gas station on the corner of Atlantic Avenue called Pure Oil Station.
Charlotte began first grade at Lakewood Elementary School. At that time the school had only been opened for two years. This was the only school in the area other than Myrtle Beach Elementary School. One bus traveled to Garden City to pick up a handful of students from only three families. The same bus took kids to Socastee High School and picked up students in Surfside.
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“Our favorite part of the bus route was driving into what is today Ocean Lakes Campground. We picked up Odel Marsh’s children. If it rained, their parents had to bring them to Highway 17 because the bus would bog down on the muddy road,” said Charlotte.
The Eason family opened a campground in 1967 on their land located off Atlantic Avenue. Back then, a campsite cost $2.50 per night. The campground stayed in business for years and eventually evolved into what is now Pirates Cove Mobile Home Park. The park is still owned by the original family.
“Garden City was quite different in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Our first high rise was the Garden City Motor Inn. It was three stories high. I remember looking across the creek at its lights and thinking we were so uptown,” Charlotte said. “Within a few years, the oceanfront buildings began to grow taller. My siblings, cousins and I would watch the modular homes moving down Atlantic Avenue one after the other, all day long. They would then stack them one on top of the other to create the condominiums. We were fascinated.”
Charlotte recalled riding her bike from Garden City to Surfside without seeing a car. The two beaches were separated by a grove of wax myrtle trees before Oceanside Village and The Keyes were developed.
There were always many surfers around. Eric Eason, Charlotte’s brother, opened the Village Surf Shop in 1969. When he first started selling surfboards, he would drive to Florida and bring boards back to sell. The shop located on Atlantic Avenue still stands today, and is a local’s favorite for surfboards, clothing and gear.
Besides a few native families, the winters were very quiet. Almost every restaurant and business closed and there were only a few people around anywhere besides relatives. Charlotte’s family spent a lot of time fishing, crabbing, swimming and playing in the creek. Most kids were involved in school sports or glee club. Kids could ride their bike to the beach unattended without their parents worrying about them all day.
“In the summer, I only remember a few activities available for young people available in Garden City. We had the Garden City Pier, the trampolines and the Garden City Putt-Putt. The trampolines were located where Sam’s Corner is today and the putt-putt, ran by Ike White, were across the road. There was also the Mermaid Shop owned and operated by Myrtle Caughman,” said Charlotte.
Holley Caughman Aufdemorte, Charlotte’s best childhood friend said, “I have wonderful memories of growing up in Garden City Beach. As children, we had free rein to ride our bikes, play and picnic beneath vacant beach houses. Summer brought an influx of vacationers and new friends. As much as we loved the beach and ocean, we also loved the creek for swimming, crabbing and floating in inner tubes. We would come home covered in mud but carrying a bushel of blue crabs. My most poignant memories may be the most primal: the smells of the ocean, creek mud and fish, and falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing on the beach.”
The kids from Garden City would often go to Surfside looking for some fun, Charlotte said.
“In Surfside the summer hot spot was the Surfside Rides. They had the best corn dogs with hot mustard. They also played bingo there. Inside the Surfside Arcade were many arcade games such as baseball, skeet ball and photo machines. Out in the back of the arcade was the famous jukebox. We loved going to watch the older kids dance and prayed someone would ask us.”
Myrtle Beach was another hot spot. All of the kids would go to the Pavilion, the Magic Attic, the Broadway Theater and the Gloria Theater. When Skate Land eventually opened, everyone went skating every weekend.
When she turned 13, Charlotte began working as a salad girl at The Clipper Ship. The popular restaurant had a waiting line out the door every night. It was known for its live lobster tank, seafood, charcoal fireplace-cooked steaks and entertainment. The organ player entertained the crowd every night.
Geneva and Johnny Loud owned and operated the restaurant for 20 years then sold it to their son Robyn Loud. It opened in 1946 with seating for 46 diners and by the time it closed in 1985, it could accommodate 350.
After a busy night at work, when the staff finished their side work, most would head to the point in Garden City to look for turtle eggs and swim in the inlet. She remembers it was always very dark. There were not many homes out there then so there was not any light except for the moon.
“We would get in the water and move our hands real fast to see the sparkles. It was so beautiful but scary at night,” said Charlotte.
Upon graduation from Socastee High school, she Charlotte attended Atlantic Christian College in Wilson, N.C. She then accepted a job in Sumter and married Frank Jones. They lived in Sumter for 25 years and raised three boys. Being a teacher, she was fortunate enough to be able to spend her summers in Garden City. Her boys grew up enjoying the same childhood experiences that she had. After her youngest graduated from high school, she moved home to the beach permanently.
“After moving home and getting settled back in to beach life, it did not take long to realize that this is not the small little village that I left 25 years ago. I could hardly believe how the community had changed. So many people live here year round now and it is amazing how many schools have been built. The secret is out; the Grand Strand is a wonderful place to live.”