I first encountered Wither’s Swash last summer during my first extended and leisurely stroll along the beach in my new home of Myrtle Beach. As I meandered north toward the Second Avenue Pier my eyes darting in all directions to glimpse the brilliant views, I came upon what I thought to be an inland stream that flowed to the ocean; something I had not seen anywhere else before. I saw children and adults romping in its shallow waters and so I decided to join in as well. I waded into the knee-deep water and was pleasantly surprised by the sensations of the cool water against my sun warmed skin and that I was walking on a bed of seashells being deposited there by the incoming ocean tide. I squatted, and then sat down allowing myself to be bathed in the blending of alternating cool and warm waters from the stream and sea caressing me in a spa-like and therapeutic swirl of sea foam and tide. Then as others around me were, I scooped a handful of shells from the bottom and examined them in awe for their variety of shapes, sizes and colors, all for the taking. I glanced out at the incomparable view of the surrounding scene as I sat there below beach level enjoying the amazing experience of bathing myself in the soothing surf while people, gulls and the occasional pelican moseyed by or soared overhead as the children frolicked at the water’s edge with others swimming or enjoying water sports beyond. The scene had a playground atmosphere both for children and adults and it seemed to infuse them with joy and happiness. It did me and so I go back there often to peacefully commune with nature and enjoy the panorama of the nearby pier, beach-side park and of course the sea and wildlife.
Well, not long afterward I was biking along Ocean Boulevard and came upon the Family Kingdom Amusement Park near a small bridge with a sign affixed that read “Withers Swash” and I realized that this was the street side adjacent to the stream I had swum in a few days earlier. Further investigation revealed that the swash is not only a landmark but it’s also surrounded by a small public park called Withers Swash Park that is also a wildlife preserve. So, I pondered what is a swash and who was Withers. Well, one definition of a swash is; “a narrow channel of water lying within a sandbank or between a sandbank and the shore.” However, technically Withers is not a swash but is designated as a tidal creek by the Army Corps of Engineers. Also referred to a tidal channel or estuary, it is that portion of a stream that is affected by the ebb and flow of ocean tides, and as in this case, the subject stream discharges to an ocean, sea or a strait. Thus this portion of the stream has variable salinity and electrical conductivity over the tidal cycle and flushes salts from inland soils. Tidal creeks are characterized by slow water velocity resulting in a buildup of fine, organic sediment in wetlands. Creeks may often dry to a muddy channel with little or no flow at low tide, but with significant depth of water at high tide.
Originally known as Myrtle Swash or Eight Mile Swash, Withers Swash is one of the oldest inhabited areas on the South Carolina Grand Strand and is named for some of the earliest landowners in Horry County, the Withers family. During South Carolina's Colonial Era, a prominent landowner named Robert Francis Withers was awarded a land grant for 66,000 acres which included this site along with the majority of present-day Myrtle Beach which was then called Long Bay. The Withers family established Withers Plantation there and built a home on a bluff overlooking the tidal creek known locally as a swash which emptied into the Atlantic at this site. Later on, in 1822 a massive hurricane struck Georgetown and Horry County causing extensive damage and loss of life. Consequently, eighteen people who had sought refuge in the Withers’ house were washed out to sea and they drowned. Regardless, the Withers family continued to farm the adjacent property through most of the 19th century where the sandy soil was favorable for the growing of tobacco, sweet potatoes, peanuts and vegetables. As well, they harvested oysters, shrimp and fish from the nearby creek and ocean.
Eventually, Withers Swash was acquired by the Burroughs & Collins Company, a Conway-based timber and mercantile firm which was instrumental in the further development of Myrtle Beach during the early decades of the 20th century. Then, in the 1940s and '50s, adjacent Spivey Beach developed as a popular summertime vacation spot for families to visit and have their children splash in the waters of Withers Swash as they flowed along with its current into the Atlantic. Present day, the Withers family cemetery has graves dating back to the 19th century and is located off nearby Collins Street, adjacent to First Baptist Church.
Although the mouth of the historic tidal creek was somewhat demolished by development in the late 20th century it has since been redeveloped and today the site is best known as a Myrtle Beach city park named Withers Swash Park that is a ten acre preserve with heaps of foliage and great scenery as well as a playground, fishing pier, walking trails, and a picnic shelter. A wide variety of birds and animals roam the park and the grounds are very beautiful. It’s a great place to snap off pics of local wildlife such as pelicans and egrets.
The adjoining Family Kingdom Amusement Park opened to the public in 1966 under the name Grand Strand Amusement Park. The 13-acre park occupies land along the banks of Withers Swash and as a major family amusement center along Myrtle Beach’s Ocean Boulevard tourist district, and it was operated independently until 1992 when it was purchased by prominent Ocean Boulevard developers the Ammons family. Then, it was renamed Family Kingdom Amusement Park and redeveloped again to include a number of new thrill and family rides including the incorporation of the nearby former Wild Rapids water park originally opened in 1977. Subsequently, in 2016 the park’s classic Swamp Fox roller coaster was declared a historic structure by American Coaster Enthusiasts, a non-profit organization focusing on the enjoyment, knowledge, and preservation of roller coasters as well as recognition of some as architectural and engineering landmarks,in honor of its 50th anniversary of operation by installing an historical marker at the site. Then the following year the coaster received a similar historic designation from the city of Myrtle Beach. The coaster is named after American Revolutionary War leader, Francis Marion a colonial American soldier in the American Revolution, nicknamed the “Swamp Fox” by the British because of his elusive tactics. He later went on to serve as a member of the South Carolina Provincial Congress.
The Swamp Fox is a wooden roller-coaster that runs over a 2,400 feet figure-eight track. Its “double out and back” design takes riders to heights of 75 feet at speeds up to 50 miles per hour, and it features dramatic drops of up to 65 feet. The roller coaster was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company of Pennsylvania and it was opened in 1966 as one of the rides at the original Grand Strand Amusement Park. The coaster has been completely restored according to the specifications of the original design by John C. Allen a roller coaster designer who was responsible for the revival of wooden roller coasters during the 1960s. And, the Swamp Fox has been ranked as one of the best hidden-gem wooden coasters in the country by numerous travel websites.
Today, Family Kingdom Amusement Park is operated as one of the last remaining free-admission theme parks in the United States, offering either the single purchase of ride tickets or all-day ride wristbands throughout the park. The park’s operating season runs from April through October.
More than 35 amusement rides are located throughout the park offering high and mild thrill rides, and family-friendly thrill ones for visitors of all ages. Besides the Swamp Fox, other high-thrill rides at the park include the Sling Shot drop tower, the Twist’n Shout mouse coaster, a Giant Wheel, and the O.D. Hopkins Log Flume water ride named for its builder O.D. Hopkins who was the founder of the amusement ride manufacturing firm O.D. Hopkins Associates Inc. Too, the park’s “Splashes Oceanfront Water Park” offers two acres of water attractions overlooking the Atlantic Ocean coast. Additionally, free daily strolling entertainment is presented at the park throughout the operating season including roving magicians, clowns, and balloon artists.
So, all in all, Withers Swash and the surrounding area offers a pleasing menu of beach and surf accompanied by vibrant nature and wildlife along with thrilling rides in a family friendly environment; something for everyone.