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A Little Piece of Heaven, Murrells Inlet, SC

December 31, 2018

 I’m eager concerning exploring the surrounding areas of my new home of Myrtle Beach and the entirety of the Palmetto State of South Carolina as well. And, one of the renowned nearby locales to visit is Murrells Inlet which is just a stone’s throw away from where I live.Therefore, on a recent bright and sunny September Sunday afternoon I jumped into the ol’ Jeep and headed south on Business Route 17 until I reached the Murrells Inlet cutoff, a two-lane road that runs along Alston Creek that eventually empties into Murrells Inlet and subsequently the Atlantic Ocean. The celebrated Marshwalk and the majority of the seafood markets, restaurants, and entertainment venues are located along this stretch of road.Murrells Inlet is an unincorporated area and census-designated place (CDP) straddling the line between Horry and Georgetown Counties in South Carolina with a population of about 7,550. It has a total area of 7.5 square miles of which 7.3 square miles are land and 0.2 square miles or 2.21%, are water. The community was once primarily a fishing village but has grown substantially in the modern era along with the remainder of the “Grand Strand” that extends from Little River to Georgetown SC and encompasses more than sixty miles along a continuous natural arc of beach beginning near the Little River and ending at Winyah Bay. And, today the area is a popular tourist and retirement location.The Murrells Inlet area is most recognized for its Marshwalk, a one-half-mile long boardwalk overlooking a salt-marsh that is a tidal marsh and coastal ecosystem between land and open saltwater or brackish water that is regularly flooded by the tides. It is dominated by dense stands of salt-tolerant plants such as herbs, grasses, or low shrubs.Murrells’ native wildlife and the vibrant saltwater marsh offer an extraordinary environment throughout the seasons where tourists and residents may enjoy dining, music, fishing, boating, and shopping, plus staged entertainment events. The northern edge of the CDP follows the Horry County line along U.S. Route 17 “Ocean Highway” that runs through the middle of the community leading northeast thirteen miles to Myrtle Beach and southwest twenty-one miles to Georgetown, the seat of Georgetown County.The land around Murrells Inlet has a standing as a colonized settlement that extends thousands of years beyond recorded written history and is apparent in the numerous shell mounds and archeological findings to be found from the Atlantic Ocean to the Waccamaw River that runs approximately 140 miles through southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina. Along its upper course it is a slow-moving black water river surrounded by vast wetlands and passable only by shallow-draft watercraft such as canoes. However, its lower course is lined by sandy banks and old plantation houses providing an important navigation channel with a unique geography flowing roughly parallel to the coast.The inlet area’s early inhabitants included the Waccamaw people of the Waccamaw Siouan Indians who are one of eight state-recognized Native American tribal nations; they are also known as the “People of the Fallen Star.” Historically Siouan-speaking, they are located predominantly in the southeastern North Carolina counties of Bladen and Columbus. These natives took advantage of the natural resources afforded them by the creeks and rivers. Wachesaw is loosely translated as “Place of Great Weeping”, in reference to the burial grounds that were located there. And, Indian burial mounds have been found along the high bluffs at Wachesaw that contained European made beads, urns and other artifacts.The history of the area goes back to the days of English settlements and land grants of the Lords Proprietors who held a position akin to head landlord or overseer of a territory. A Lords Proprietor is a person granted a royal charter for the establishment and government of an English colony in the 17th century and oversaw a territory on behalf of a higher sovereign. And when they divided large portions of the Waccamaw Neck into baronies, the vast estates and private landholding of a Baron, they stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Waccamaw River. The baronies typically consisted of tens of thousands of acres that were subdivided into long and narrow plantations, and 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 noteworthy was Captain John Murrell, who purchased 2,340 acres in 1733 that eventually became the Wachesaw and Richmond Hill plantations. He was a subsistence farmer, a system where the farmers focus on growing enough food to feed themselves and their families. And, the remainder of their output is mostly for local requirements with little or no surplus trade. He died in 1771 and willed his land to his son Daniel and two daughters, after which it became the two separate plantations.Later on, following the Civil War and during the years from the Reconstruction era until World War I, Murrells Inlet had an upsurge in the number of settlers who moved to the inlet to enjoy the natural resources it offered. And, up to the 1900s the main transportation corridors were primarily the Waccamaw River and the Atlantic Ocean for boats and ships, and overland it was the Kings Road that was used during a visit by George Washington and the River Road that runs along the Waccamaw River near the plantation houses that were used by horse and wagons. These dirt pathways were crude and rough paths and they bore no resemblance to today’s modern highways. Eventually, in 1933, highway 17 was paved as part of a federal program to provide surfaced roadways across the United States. As well, the existing water shipping routes relied on the deepwater access provided by the Waccamaw River to move large quantities of materials and goods. And, one of the early vessels was the Comanche steamship that called on Wachesaw Landing to deliver passengers and mail to Murrells Inlet. Today, Murrells Inlet is legendary. And, it’s a place where Blackbeard, Stede Bonnet and other pirates of the high seas are alleged to have stashed their illicit booty, and where locals and visitors alike have reported chance meetings with some of the Inlet’s local ghosts.In fact, with its rich history as a major port of trade and a booming town dating back to the late 1600s, Murrells Inlet is notorious for its abundance of ghostly activity and hauntings. Consequently, tourists may enjoy many walking ghost tours that are offered for a truly chilling glimpse into the not so friendly past and hear stories of creepy pirates and ghosts. Or, they can sign-on for a ghost tour and wander the shady streets of the historic city and listen to tales of the inlet’s much darker past, or visit the former homes of affluent plantation owners and maybe sense the presence of those from the antebellum culture. Murrells Inlet tour guides offer a diverse assortment of ghostly tours to suit everyone’s super-natural palate whether it be an evening ghost outing to local haunted buildings, an excursion of Murrells Inlet’s eerie cemeteries, or a walking tour through creepy streets and alley ways. Murrells Inlet ghost tour operators are sure to bring the past back to life again. Considered one of the top things to do in Murrells a guided ghost tour into the city’s past is full of mystery and intrigue and is a delightful fun filled evening activity.History in the community began writing itself long before this area was officially named Murrells Inlet by the U.S. Post Office in 1913. And, Murrells’ past is garnished with the footprints of Native American tribes, 16th-century Spanish explorers and English colonists of the 17th century. Including when in the 1700s and 1800s, large land tracts were cultivated into successful rice plantations and by 1850, almost forty-seven million pounds of rice were produced in the Waccamaw Neck, an area that includes Murrells Inlet. South Carolina rice planters were far wealthier and more powerful than the tobacco, sugar and cotton plantation owners of the southeast and one of the wealthiest rice planters was Joseph Alston who became the forty-fourth Governor of South Carolina. Too, in the 1800s, pirates sailed the SC coastline and routinely secreted in the Inlet’s winding creeks conspiring to plunder England-bound sailing ships.Later on, during the 1800s people who summered in Murrells Inlet transited to Conway or Georgetown via train then picked up a steamboat that docked at the Wachesaw river landing where they hired a horse and buggy or oxen cart to carry them and their belongings to their rented cottages. The river steamboats were notorious for serving excellent food and many of the steamboats’ cooks settled in Murrells Inlet and opened their own restaurants long ago giving the area its reputation for its savory cuisine which endures today.Then, the Civil War came to Murrells Inlet’s shores in 1863 and Union warships attacked the Confederacy’s blockade runners that utilized the Inlet as a haven to sneak cotton and other products to England in exchange for war materials, food and medicine. The war prompted the decline of the rice culture, and although some rice plantations somewhat recovered the rice plantation era came to an end after the Civil War with the emancipation of the slaves because rice cultivation was labor-intensive. Additionally, a sequence of hurricanes that climaxed with the 1893 Hurricane causing the” Flagg flood,” when the Atlantic Ocean was reported to have merged with the Waccamaw River caused immense devastation to the area and its crops. Consequently, by 1916, the last remaining commercial rice grower had gone out of business.But, by then commercial fishing had become a predominant industry in the inlet with catches being shipped north on schooners. Recreational fishing also became part of the landscape when in 1914 captain-led fishing excursions out of the Inlet became available on 20-foot skiffs at a cost of $5 per person for a day trip.This stimulated more restaurants, marinas and private homes to emerge in the Murrells Inlet village and for it to grow into the vibrant tourist and vacation mecca that it’s become now. But residents are not quick to forget the folklore that helped draw them in the first place. Therefore, front-porch tales, ghost stories and a variety of local tours keep alive the history so deeply rooted in its marsh creeks, sandy banks and river landings. Names of local streets and neighborhoods are reminiscent of the people, plantations and cottages of yesteryear and Hermitage, Sunnyside, Vaux Hall and Wachesaw are but a few of the nostalgic familiarities that make Murrells Inlet the charming and picturesque seaside community it is today.During my first visit to Murrells Inlet I walked the infamous Marshwalk alongside the throng of tourists and locals and as dusk fell, I witnessed the onset of the spectacular sunset that followed as I joyously snapped cell-phone pictures one after the other. The bars and eateries were alive with entertainment and the air resonated with their music and the mirth of spectators drinking and dining as the inlet bustled with fishing and tour boats coming and going. The atmosphere was joyous and festive with the crowd conversing, laughing and enjoying a good time. There were many families, their children contemplating the shallow waters in anticipation of catching a glimpse of a fish or crab or their smiling faces looking skyward in astonishment to view the sunset and later-on the moon and stars sparkled in their eyes of wonder.Earlier in the day I had stopped in at one of the many bistros and indulged in their seafood buffet which was scrumptious and very reasonably priced. Then, later in the week, I returned to stock up on fresh seafood to take home with me and enjoy at my leisure. Then again, I returned this past Saturday for the annual Fall Oyster Roast where one can enjoy all-you-can-eat-oysters for $35. This event is held rain or shine at the Wicked Tuna restaurant on the Marshwalk.There’s always a bounty of fun and entertaining activity and events happening at Murrells Inlet. And, the food and drink are abundant too and beyond compare in quality, taste and value. So, come on down. Maybe I’ll see there y’all.

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