The land around Murrells Inlet has a record of settlement that goes back thousands of years, before written history, but evident in the shell mounds and archeological findings from the Atlantic Ocean to the Waccamaw River. The early inhabitants included the Waccamaw Indians who took advantage of the natural resources provided by the creeks and rivers. The recorded history of the area goes back to the days of English settlements and the land grants of the Lords Proprietors, when large portions of the Waccamaw Neck were divided into baronies that stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Waccamaw River. The baronies were typically tens of thousands of acres that were subdivided into long narrow plantations that ranged from 500 to 1500 acres. The plantations of Murrells Inlet included The Oaks, Brookgreen, Springfield, Laurel Hill, Richmond Hill, and Wachesaw (from south to north). The first land grants were given to Robert Daniell in 1711, who in turn sold to several other speculators, with the first planters arriving in the 1730s to begin building settlements. The most notable (for historic purposes) was Captain John Murrell, who bought 2340 acres which eventually became Wachesaw and Richmond Hill plantations, and built a house on the bluff there around 1733. Wachesaw Plantation was eventually purchased by Allard Belin around 1800, while Richmond Hill passed through Murrell descendants until it was sold to an Allston (most likely John Hayes Allston, who pioneered rice planting techniques with clay).
Wachesaw Plantation was eventually purchased by Allard Belin around 1800, while Richmond Hill passed through Murrell descendants until it was sold to an Allston. These plantations were owned by a host of famous planters, and prospered during the establishment of the rice culture of the 1700’s and 1800’s. The Waccamaw Neck planters were represented in the state Senate and House, as well as in the Governor’s and Lieutenant Governor’s office during the 1800’s. The rice planters were also active in the establishment of social, educational, and religious organizations, including the Planters Club, the Winyah Indigo Society, the Hot and Hot Fish Club, the All Saints Academy, the Waccamaw Methodist Mission, and All Saints Waccamaw. The names of the families are shown on the various historic maps that date back as far as 1783 – the listing of the Murrell family on the first maps is the most credible explanation of the origin of Murrells Inlet.
The rice plantation era came to an end after the Civil War with the emancipation of the slaves, resulting in the decline of the fields, dikes, and water control structures required for rice cultivation, since planters had to rely on freedmen to work the fields. Several powerful hurricanes following the Civil War and up to the 1893 hurricane damaged the dikes in the rice fields and ultimately ended the production of rice on the Waccamaw Neck. The 1893 hurricane (where the Atlantic Ocean was reported to meet the Waccamaw River) became known as the Flagg Flood because the Flagg families who lived in houses on Magnolia Beach (Dr. Arthur, his wife, Georgeanne, his son Arthur Jr., and his wife and 6 children) were swept away in the storm surge
After Dr. Allard Flagg's death in 1901, his daughter sold Wachesaw and the Hermitage to Samuel Sidney Fraser, a real estate speculator, who held onto the plantation briefly before selling to Robert Ernest Beaty in 1905. Clarke A. Willcox of Marion purchased Wachesaw and the Hermitage in 1910 for $10,000 to use as a summer retreat. The Willcox family retained the Hermitage, but sold Wachesaw in 1930 to William A. Kimbel, who also bought Richmond Hill with the purpose of developing a large hunting estate. With his purchase of both properties, Kimbel had restored the boundaries of John Murrell's original plantation.
In 1920, Dr. Julius A. Mood of Sumter and a group of sportsmen bought Brookgreen, Springfield, Laurel Hill, and The Oaks to use as a hunting preserve. His daughter, Julia Mood Peterkin, made several visits to Brookgreen and used the area as the setting for some of her novels. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Scarlet Sister Mary in 1928. After numerous owners, railroad magnate Archer Milton Huntington purchased Brookgreen in 1930. At first, he and his wife, Anna Hyatt Huntington, intended Brookgreen as a winter resort. Eventually, they decided to use the plantation as an outdoor gallery for Mrs. Huntington's award-winning sculptures. The Huntington’s constructed Atalaya, a Spanish-style fort, on the beach to use for her studio and living quarters at what is now Huntington State Park. Brookgreen Gardens is open year round and offers opportunities for investigating the old rice culture, modern art, and beautiful gardens, for which Brookgreen is famous today.
Early shipping routes relied on the Waccamaw River to move materials and goods by schooners and steamships, stopping at Wachesaw Landing to deliver passengers and mail to Murrells Inlet. The Murrells Inlet creeks were also convenient places for blockade runners and pirates to bring in loads of goods or ship cotton out when the entrances to Little River and Georgetown were blocked by Union ships. The shipping of goods into Murrells Inlet during the Civil War created many embarrassments for the Union Navy from 1862 to 1864, until Confederate withdrawal of troops ultimately allowed the Federal forces to control the inlet.
The transportation corridors up to the 1900’s were primarily the Waccamaw River and the Atlantic Ocean for boats, and the Kings Road (used during George Washington’s visit) and the River Road (along the Waccamaw River near the plantation houses) for horse and wagons. These dirt paths were crude rough paths that bore no resemblance to today’s modern highways. Highway 17 was paved around 1933 as part of a federal effort to provide paved roads across the United States. The original road through Murrells Inlet followed along the creekfront houses until the new highway was constructed.
The years during the Reconstruction until World War I saw an increase in the number of settlers who moved to Murrells Inlet to enjoy the natural resources provided. The families who moved into this area were from communities like Marion, Conway, Southport, and other nearby counties.
Murrells Inlet received visitors from all over the United Stated because of the Army Crash Boat station established during World War II and the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base that was reactivated in the 1950’s, and many of these military personnel ended up making Murrells Inlet their home. Some of these service members started families with the girls they met in Murrells Inlet, and others brought their families with them. The period after World War II up into the 1960’s saw the growth of the fishing and seafood industries, and Murrells Inlet quickly gained the reputation of the “Seafood Capitol of South Carolina”. The charter fishing industry quickly gained fame after Alex Sing Jr. brought the fishing vessel “Captain Alex” to Murrells Inlet in 1967 and newspaper reports were read by fishermen all over the southeast.
The growth of the population and the tourism industry during the 1970’s and 1980’s saw a transformation from a sleepy fishing village to the modern town of today. Hurricane Hugo hit Murrells Inlet in 1989 and the storm surge destroyed many of the last remnants of the past, including the Army docks. The closure of the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base in the early 1990’s signaled a change in the local economy, and in 1997 there was a local push to improve Murrells Inlet, protecting and preserving the creek and helping to improve the business climate. This resulted in Murrells Inlet 2007, which was the effort of numerous individuals and several small groups joining forces to speak with a united voice. This group (now Murrells Inlet 2020) has been successful in completing several projects to beautify and improve our community and plan for the future.he growth of the population and the tourism industry during the 1970’s and 1980’s saw a transformation from a sleepy fishing village to the modern town of today. Hurricane Hugo hit Murrells Inlet in 1989 and the storm surge destroyed many of the last remnants of the past, including the Army docks. The closure of the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base in the early 1990’s signaled a change in the local economy, and in 1997 there was a local push to improve Murrells Inlet, protecting and preserving the creek and helping to improve the business climate. This resulted in Murrells Inlet 2007, which was the effort of numerous individuals and several small groups joining forces to speak with a united voice. This group (now Murrells Inlet 2020) has been successful in completing several projects to beautify and improve our community and plan for the future.