SC History Trail

Murrells Inlet Historic District

Known today as the "Seafood Capital of South Carolina," Murrells Inlet is one of the oldest coastal communities in the state, and was an active port in the 18th and 19th centuries as it served the Waccamaw Neck rice plantations.


Murrells Inlet Historic District
Murrells Inlet, SC 29576
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Site Description
Located south of Myrtle Beach on U.S. Business 17, Murrells Inlet is one of the oldest coastal communities in South Carolina. English colonist John Morrall, for whom Murrells Inlet is likely named, settled on the inlet in 1731, sixty-one years after the Colony of South Carolina was founded at Charleston. As surrounding Waccamaw Neck became the center of South Carolina's rice-planting empire in the 18th and 19th centuries, Murrells Inlet became a small, but bustling, port for shipping rice and indigo to Britain, and later, turpentine, cotton and peanuts to ports in the North.

During the pirate period of the early Colonial Era, fearsome pirates such as Blackbeard, Stede Bonnet and others are believed to have cruised into Murrells Inlet in search of fresh water and a site to careen their ships for removal of barnacles. Area planters used the area as a summer resort, where the Atlantic breezes enabled them to escape illness and death caused by malaria, which some folks believed was caused by "swamp gasses" rather than mosquitoes.

During the Civil War, Federal naval forces blockaded South Carolina ports, including Murrells Inlet, but local blockade runners managed to elude patrolling naval warships, shipping turpentine and cotton through Nassau, Havana and Bermuda to buyers in Britain, and reportedly even some buyers in the North. In the fall of 1863, Confederate cavalry posted nearby captured Northern sailors from a landing party that had gone ashore to burn a beached blockade runner.

In December of 1863, Admiral John Dahlgren, commander of the U.S. South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, sent a flotilla of six warships and several hundred troops to invade and destroy Murrells Inlet. A severe gale dispersed the invasion force, however, and a single warship, the USS Nipsic, shelled Murrells Inlet and set fire to a blockade runner loaded with a cargo of turpentine. In 1864, a landing party of Northern sailors from the USS Ethan Allen destroyed 2,000 bushels of salt at a nearby Confederate saltworks.

Following the Civil War, rice planting disappeared - due to the end of slave labor and a series of hurricanes that wrecked the rice fields. The rice empire disappeared, and many Waccamaw Neck plantation homes fell into disrepair and ruin. The natural attractions of the region gained national attention when President Grover Cleveland made a widely-publicized duck-hunting trip to the region in 1894, and Northern business leaders began acquiring the old plantations at bargain prices - a fad that continued well into the 20th century. Several, notably Archer M. and Anna Hyatt Huntington, who developed Brookgreen Gardens, assisted the region through various acts of philanthropy.

In the early 20th century, residents of Conway, Marion and Florence traveled by steamboat down the Waccamaw River to nearby Wachesaw Landing to stay in cottages at Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island, launching a modern resort era. Murrells Inlet had retained its legacy as a fishing village and in the 1950s, the village's reputation for oyster roasts and fried seafood attracted large numbers of seafood fanciers - a tradition that continues today, giving Murrells Inlet the name "Seafood Capital of South Carolina". Numerous private homes date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the Murrells Inlet Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Access and Admission
Site Access: Public
Access Description: Public areas, private businesses, public Marshwalk along the waterfront.
Average Viewing Time: 2 hours
Admission: Free
Ownership: Public
Tours and Events
Guided Tours: no
Events: Annual Blessing of the Fleet, Oyster Festival, various ghost tours and other events.