With Andy Griffith passing away last week, many have made the comment that there will never be another one like him. Also, The Sun News presented the question, is Myrtle Beach losing its Southern Heritage?
I teach a course at the OLLI Campus of Coastal Carolina College, called “Before we were the Grand Strand,” and at the start of each course, I ask this question, “How many of you moved to this area for elsewhere?” So far, of all my students, only two are from the South and everyone else in all my courses have relocated. It seems that many are from New Jersey.
I begin my class by thanking them for moving down here, because as I tell them that if they did not, I would be picking tobacco, and that is the truth. When I was a kid I worked in tobacco one day and that was all it took to keep me in school and college! It’s an honorable and noble profession but backbreaking!
I tell my students that they are the new kind of southerner, those who have relocated making this area their home. I want them to know the background of this area and our heritage that will now become part of theirs, an honorable heritage that they are becoming part of.
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There are very few of us who can say that we were born and raised in this area, since Myrtle Beach will be celebrating its 75th birthday next year. And we all came from the rural area around Myrtle Beach. No, Myrtle Beach did not come first – it came later and until very recently was a summertime only area, with very few year-round families.
For virtually all of us who have lived here for a lifetime we can trace our roots back to the tobacco farms and forest outside of Conway. Never was it every imagined that the beach would be what it is today. Before that it was tobacco, timber and the turpentine industry.
The lives of these original families revolved around the tobacco crop and getting it “in.” When the auctioneers came down from Winston-Salem and purchased the tobacco crop, the family would make their major purchases of the year, get shoes, school clothes, ladies would get their permanents at the beauty shops, and most important, they would pay off their debt to the Jerry Cox in Conway, or to Chapin’s here in Myrtle Beach. These stores would give credit so that the families could live during the lean times, so it was important to have good credit with the stores. That also continued as Myrtle Beach grew and families had to live on what they made at their small mom and pop hotels or restaurants during the three months of summer. Virtually every lifelong resident of this area had a little charge card, not with 16 raised numbers, but with their name and account number printed on it from Chapin’s, or Jerry Cox, and many lived on this credit during the lean times. They could buy anything from fish bait to jewelry.
Myrtle Beach is now a community of people from other areas, a melting pot. So we don’t really have an intense southern heritage because of the importance that has been placed on development and having visitors staying for a few weeks or moving here, nor a long history because until the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base was built, and President Roosevelt’s Intracoastal Waterway was built in the late 1930s, you could hardly get to this area because of the low lying swampy lands. It was extremely remote, as we were the Greater Independent Republic of Horry County. Independent, many times, because you could hardly get here.
If you research property in Myrtle Beach, be it residential or commercial, you will find the root of its origin is a family farm or the timberlands that surround Myrtle Beach.
And for us, the children of these old families, we were very lucky, because we have many Andy Griffiths in our lives. In my early years, I can remember being on the front porch of my grandmother’s house after church with my aunts inside preparing Sunday dinner and my uncles in their white short sleeved good shirts, rolling their own cigarettes and turning the handle on the ice cream churn.
They were priceless times, only allowed to the few of us who grew up during a gentle time with gentle people, one of them being a true southern gentleman, Andy Griffith. So long, Andy. Looking forward to seeing you again.
The writer lives in Myrtle Beach.