Myrtle Beach, the booming South Carolina beach town favored by generations of West Virginia vacationers, remained a virtually untouched stretch of sand dunes and wax myrtle until the early 20th century.
First inhabited by Waccamaw and Winyah Indians, the area was explored in the 1520s by Spaniard Lucas Vasquez de Allyon. In the 18th century, the area was visited by such legendary buccaneers as Captain Kidd and Blackbeard, but it remained a little-visited backwater until the 20th century. A developer began selling oceanfront lots for $25 in about 1900, with buyers receiving an extra lot free if they spent more than $500 on their homes or vacation cottages.
Originally called New Town, Myrtle Beach was incorporated in 1938. As Myrtle Beach began to carve out a niche as a coastal vacation destination in the 1960s, West Virginians responded, drawn by the informal atmosphere, relatively low prices, and comparatively short driving distances—less than 500 miles from much of the Mountain State. By the 1970s, nearly any West Virginia discussion of the beach meant Myrtle Beach.
In 1985, a section of Myrtle Beach became the Mountain State’s unofficial shoreline, during a ceremony in which flamboyant State Treasurer A. James Manchin came ashore in a boat, waving a West Virginia flag, to cheers from a crowd of vacationing West Virginians. Manchin declared a 225-foot section of coastline in front of a condominium complex developed by a West Virginia company to be the state’s ‘‘only access to the sea.’’ He then stuck a flagstaff in the sand, declaring it to be West Virginia soil.
The development of such year-round attractions as golf courses and entertainment theaters has helped make tourism in Myrtle Beach a $6.5 billion a year business by 2011. A beachfront boardwalk and promenade that is more than a mile long opened in May 2010.
While only about 1,500 people lived year-round in Myrtle Beach proper in the late 1960s, more than 27,000 were living in the city in 2010. The town’s population routinely swells during peak holiday periods to more than 300,000, many of them West Virginians.
This Article was written by Rick Steelhammer
Last Revised on October 20, 2010