Pawleys Island: 'Arrogantly Shabby'

Posted September 22, 2008 2:54 p.m. EDT

— Rich in history and local folklore, tiny Pawleys Island is a pristine beach community off the South Carolina coast self-described as “arrogantly shabby,” with summer rentals that range from simple cottages with lye-washed floorboards and screen-only windows to plush, multi-level homes with spectacular ocean views.

Pawleys Island, just south of Litchfield Beach off U.S. Highway 17, is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and a marsh near the Waccamaw River flowing into the Winyah Bay on the other. Only about four miles long and a half-mile wide, the small barrier island is one of the oldest resort towns on the East Coast, and residents prefer the barrier island’s low-key, casual lifestyle and resist new commercial development.

“This is a multi-generational, quaint, small town where families can enjoy the same kind of vacation that drew their ancestors to the island in the 1800s,” said Lee Brockington, author of "Pawleys Island, A Century of History and Photographs."

Brockington, a Waccamaw Neck historian, said this third book to be published by the Pawleys Island Civic Association includes several photographs from the past 100 years gathered by its president, Linwood Altman.

“Vacationers focus on the ocean in front of the houses and the salt creek behind them,” Brockington said. “You can go crabbing, fish with cane poles and wade at the low tide, looking for flounder, or kayak in the ocean or creek. Children make drip castles in the sand or body surf in the warm Atlantic.”

The town incorporated in 1985 and has about 100 full-year residents and around 570 homes, most available to rent. A 54-unit condominium development was built in the 1970s, after which zoning was approved to restrict high-density development. Only two small inns, grandfathered from the zoning restrictions, are located on the island. Visits to a grocery store, gas station or convenience store require a trip to the mainland, a short drive across one of the two causeways.

“People often talk about the simplicity of life here,” said Alan Altman, who grew up on Pawleys Island and now lives right outside its border. “They like the serenity and peacefulness of Pawleys Island. It’s a good place to spend time together as a family on the beaches and outside on the porches and close to plenty of places to eat or find entertainment, just across the island.”

Altman, a Realtor with Pawleys Island Realty Company, said Pawleys Island is only a 30-minute drive from Myrtle Beach for people who want to visit tourist sites beyond the Grand Strand and about an hour from Charleston.

Traffic moves slowly at a strict 25-mph speed limit, and people mainly walk or bicycle around the island. Beach and fishing equipment, kayaks and creek boats can be rented. Beach areas are public, and some parking is available.

Beaches are a nesting habitat for loggerhead turtles, an endangered species and South Carolina’s official state reptile. Outside beachfront lights are turned off after 10 p.m. to encourage the females to lay eggs.

Annual events include the Fourth of July parade, an event so large, that people schedule their vacation to coincide with it. The Pawleys Island Reunion, a get-together of visitors with live bands, music and dancing, is scheduled in May. The annual kayak race takes place July 16 in the creek. October brings the 5-K and 10-K Turtle Strut races on Oct. 18 and the Pawleys Island Home Tour of 10 to 15 homes on Oct. 25.

The town has an historic district of early to mid-1800s antebellum houses. Brochures available outside the Town Hall on Myrtle Avenue describe the history of the eight private homes and one small hotel.

Although the island is named Pawleys Island, there is no official record that the Pawley family owned either the island or a lot on the island, although they had lived in the area. Records trace a land grant around the neck of the Waccamaw area to Percival Pawley Sr. in the early 1700s, but the 1845 Myrtle Ave. building designated as the “Pawley House” was owned by Joseph Blyth Allston and appears to have been moved to its current site.

Nearby shopping, restaurants and entertainment are plentiful across the causeways. The Hammock Shops on U.S. 17 include the Original Pawleys Island Rope Hammock shop, dating to the late 1880s, when riverboat captain Joshua John Ward first made the rope hammock as a cooler, more comfortable alternative to a lumpy, grass-filled mattress.

Other attractions include Pawleys Plantation Golf and Country Club across the south causeway, offering an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus and 582 acres of natural wetlands, salt marshes and lakes.

“Pawleys Island has a lot of appeal to vacationers because they can choose either a high-end or low-end house, maintain a simple lifestyle and guarantee the same vacation for their children that their grandparents enjoyed,” Brockington said.