Prior to the Civil War, Georgetown County, South Carolina, was the world’s second-largest producer of Carolina Gold rice. Enslaved labor was brought from West Africa to work the rice plantations,
Prior to the Civil War, Georgetown County, South Carolina, was the world’s second-largest producer of Carolina Gold rice. Enslaved labor was brought from West Africa to work the rice plantations, and the melting pot of African cultures in the area developed into a new language and culture known as Gullah-Geechee.
The Georgetown port, which had become an official port of entry in 1732, exported more rice than any other port in the world, and Georgetown became the wealthiest county in the country. Read on to learn where and how to explore the history of this storied coastal community.
Many come to the Hammock Coast for our pristine beaches, but beyond the surf and sand, visitors discover rich American history, award-winning golf, world-renowned Brookgreen Gardens, beautiful Huntington Beach State Park, and myriad outdoor adventures. Your perfect Hammock Coast vacation awaits!
Encompassing 16,000 acres of land, marsh, and swamp, the Hobcaw Barony property is larger than the island of Manhattan. Its history stretches back at least 10,000 years, to when the native Waccamaw people inhabited the land. In 1718, King George I granted the land to John, Lord Carteret, one of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina.
Before the Civil War, the property was divided into plantations and used to grow Carolina Gold rice. Enslaved workers were brought to Georgetown from West Africa, where rice was also grown. Indeed, the slaves were used for labor, but it was their knowledge of rice cultivation that was the key to success. They came from different countries with different languages, and here they melded into the new Gullah-Geechee language and culture. Slave villages still stand on the property and can be seen on several of the available tours. Sweetgrass basketmaking classes taught by Gullah artist Barbara McCormick allow participants to learn a Gullah skill and take home their basket afterward.
In the early 1900s, the land was reassembled into a single property and purchased by Wall Street stockbroker Bernard Baruch, who later sold it to his oldest daughter, Belle. She died in 1964, and in her will, she created the Baruch Foundation, leaving Hobcaw to the foundation with the caveats that the land never be developed and that it be used for education and research.
For more than three decades, the Wooden Boat Show has been bringing people together to celebrate the maritime heritage of Georgetown. Held the third weekend in October, the event takes place along the waterfront in historic downtown Georgetown and features an exhibit of more than 100 wooden boats of all sizes. Participants can also compete to build boats using wood or corrugated cardboard and then race their crafts on the Sampit River.
“There’s something for everyone,” says Johnny Weaver, board president for the Harbor Historical Association, which organizes the boat show. “We’ve got boats from wooden surfboards to beautiful 50-foot motor yachts. Some of these boats are for sale, but most of them are just these people’s pride and joy, and they are showing them off.”
The Wooden Boat Show is the main fundraiser for the South Carolina Maritime Museum, which is open during the show and features exhibits on Georgetown’s and South Carolina’s maritime history.
Located in what is now Huntington Beach State Park, Atalaya Castle was constructed between 1931 and 1933 as the winter home of renowned sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington and her husband, philanthropist and Hispanic scholar Archer Milton Huntington. The couple sought a warmer climate during the winter due to Anna’s tuberculosis, which she was diagnosed with soon after their marriage.
The castle was modeled after the Moorish-style castles that Archer had visited in Spain. The sprawling, all-brick structure is constructed in a square, with living quarters on three sides surrounding a spacious double courtyard shaded by palm trees. Indoor and outdoor studios were built for Anna to sculpt, along with horse stables, a dog kennel, and animal pens to house the subjects of her artwork. The Huntingtons brought a menagerie to Atalaya each winter, including monkeys and a macaw.
After Archer’s death in 1955, Anna removed the furnishings and her studio equipment from the home. A 2,500-acre tract, including Atalaya, was leased to the state in 1960. The remarkable castle is open to the public, with guided tours offered six afternoons a week.
In 1931, the Huntingtons also established the world-renowned Brookgreen Gardens, one of the nation’s largest sculpture gardens. More than 2,000 sculptures are on display, many by Anna herself. Brookgreen is just across Ocean Highway from Huntington Beach State Park.
The Kaminski House, a Georgian-style home overlooking the Sampit River, was built in 1769 by Paul Trapier, one of the wealthiest merchants in the colony. Over the years, the house was owned by many prominent residents of the town, including three mayors. Its final private owners, Harold and Julia Kaminski, purchased the home in 1931. When Julia died in 1972, she left the house as a museum, with its contents remaining just as they were when she lived.
Harold served as mayor of Georgetown and was instrumental in bringing affordable electricity to the town. He also served in the Navy during both world wars and was stationed at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. The duffel bag that he used while in the service is on display in his upstairs bedroom. Displayed in Julia’s bedroom is a replica of her signature piece of jewelry — a 13-diamond pendant in a pewter setting that could also be worn as a brooch. The home’s ornate furnishings and trimmings — like a lighted candlestick mantle, a sign of wealth — mixed with more modern amenities, like a 1950s television set, offer a glimpse into what life was like for a wealthy Georgetown couple in the mid-20th century.
Hopsewee Plantation, built circa 1740 and just south of the city of Georgetown, is the birthplace of Thomas Lynch Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The house has never been added onto or altered since its construction, making it a well-preserved piece of colonial history.
Tours of the main house are an opportunity to learn about South Carolina’s importance to the Revolution, as well as see some key artifacts that have been recovered on the property, such as hoeing blades used by enslaved workers in the rice fields. The lighted candlestick molding is painted in bright blues, lavenders, and oranges — a signature of the many West African cultures represented by the enslaved workers who mixed the paint. A Gullah-Geechee presentation by Glander Pressley, a Gullah descendent, dives deeper into the life of the enslaved people of Hopsewee, and a museum that will open on the property in 2023 will feature scenes from life on the plantation.
“My husband’s heart and my heart are in preserving this place for people to come see and experience and learn about the history for many generations to come,” says Raejean Beatty, who owns Hopsewee with husband Frank Beatty. “This is an important history for us to keep and to share.”
Dressed in pirate garb, Christine Vernon leads groups down the MarshWalk in Murrells Inlet for evening walking tours as she tells them the spooky ghost lore and history of the area.
Local favorites include the story of the Gray Man, a ghost who shows up before hurricanes to warn of impending danger, and Drunken Jack, a pirate who was marooned on a nearby island with casks upon casks of rum. She also tells stories of plantation life, pirate history, and the history of the Waccamaw Indians.
After moving to Murrells Inlet in 2005, Vernon fell in love with the history of the town and wanted to share it with others. “I found out that not a lot of people know about the history, specifically of Murrells Inlet,” she says. “Most people don’t have any idea about the history that is right beneath our feet.”