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Who Crapped in the Sand Box? 

How greed spoiled Myrtle Beach

Page 2 of 5

In the Beginning...
Like most visitors, my family had never heard of Myrtle Beach Farms Co., the corporate entity which owned the Pavilion Amusement Park. Nor would we have known that Myrtle Beach Farms was owned by two of the most powerful clans in the area, the Burroughs and the Chapin families.

Patriarch Franklin G. Burroughs returned to Horry County after the Civil War to establish himself in the timber and naval stores industry. His crews felled ancient cypress and pine trees in the interior and floated them down the Waccamaw River to Georgetown. His stills boiled down pine resin to make turpentine and pitch. His riverboats and commissary stores served the little lumber camps that sprang up in the vast forest.

Unlike most of his competitors, who bought timber rights to a tract, cleared it and moved on, Burroughs took the long view. In post-Civil War Horry County, land was dirt-cheap -- as little as a dollar an acre. Burroughs bought up huge tracts of swamp and lowlands and sand dunes. By the 1890s, he had assembled an empire of more than 100,000 Horry County acres, including miles of empty, windswept beach.

The story is apocryphal and sounds like corporate moonshine, but the Burroughs family swears it's true: in the last years of the 19th century, their patriarch stood on that beach and told one of his daughters, "I may not live to see it and you may not, but some day this whole strand will be a resort."

Who knows? Maybe he did say it. Burroughs was a shrewd businessman, and he had surely heard of such northern beach resorts as Coney Island and Atlantic City.

To move his timber to mills and markets, Burroughs began construction of a railroad across the Horry swamps and backwaters, from the county seat of Conway, to the beach 14 miles away. He died in 1897, not living to see the task complete. Sons Frank and Donald took over the company and oversaw completion of the railroad, in 1900, and the laying out of streets around the terminus. The little lumber camp was called New Town to distinguish it from the old town of Conway.

Dreaming of the possibilities, the Burroughs family put passenger cars on their train and built the Seaside Inn, a rambling three-story gabled hotel, where the Pavilion Log Flume now runs. The Seaside Inn lacked indoor plumbing or electricity, but there were other amenities, including a boardwalk down to the beach and a pavilion where musicians played on summer nights and couples danced in the evening breeze. In the town's first marketing ploy, the family changed the name of their fief from New Town to Myrtle Beach, recognizing the local wax myrtle shrub.

In 1912, the Burroughs brothers took on a partner, Simeon Brooks Chapin, a Chicago financier who had already made several fortunes and was looking for new worlds to conquer. Together they formed Myrtle Beach Farms Co. to develop their new beach resort. They sold oceanfront lots for $25; to lure quality development, they threw in an extra lot free to anyone agreeing to build a house worth $500 or more. It was the first "Buy-One-Get-One-Free" deal in a town that would become famous for them.

Myrtle Beach grew in size and reputation as a resort, gaining the amenities and services of modern life: electricity, water and sewer, telephone service, a newspaper, a high school, the first golf course. Hurricane Hazel nearly swept the whole venture away in 1954, yet, when the debris of that disastrous night was cleared away, a new generation of investors arrived to build bigger and finer hotels. Then, in 1968, low-cost flood insurance became available through the National Flood Insurance Act. With private investment insured by the federal government, out-of-state money poured into Myrtle Beach, sparking the condo boom of the 1970s. National chains bought up old hotels, demolished them, and built oceanfront high-rises.

The next two decades saw the arrival of country music theaters, miniature golf, water parks, strip clubs, shopping malls and outlet centers. By 1999, Myrtle Beach boasted 100 golf courses, 2,000 restaurants and more than 13 million visitors a year, who rang the cash register to the tune of $5 billion.

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