Woodside Story: Myrtle Beach in the Gilded Age

By Benjamin A. Baroody

Since World War II, Myrtle Beach has been transformed from a sleepy, coastal Carolina getaway town into a national tourist destination and real estate hub. Has it been worth the transformation?    

By the late 1800s, the Burroughs & Collins Company of Conway had purchased most of the property in what is now Myrtle Beach and used the land primarily for turpentine and timber. But F.G. Burroughs had a vision to turn the coastal area into a vacation destination. At the time, the only access to the area was on the old Kings Highway (now U.S. 17 Business), which ran from Boston to Charleston (and unpaved until 1940). 

In 1900, the Burroughs & Collins Company began operating a 14-mile railway from the “old town” of Conway to the “new town” on the coast. The line connected to the larger Atlantic Coast Line in Conway, allowing easy travels for both lumberjacks and vacationers to the “new town.” That same year, at the suggestion of Mrs. F.G. Burroughs, “new town” was renamed Myrtle Beach after the abundant Wax Myrtle shrubs that still line the avenues.

In 1912, Burroughs’ two brothers and Simeon Chapin formed the Myrtle Beach Farms Company that owned just under 65,000 acres for farming, timber, and land development, which flourished. The families later created the Chapin Company in 1928 to manage all mercantile and retail operations, from building supplies to clothing. These two companies ultimately merged into the present-day Burroughs & Chapin Company.

By the “Roaring ’20s,” industrialists across the country were earning fortunes never before seen because of the lack of an income tax, labor laws and SEC or other Wall Street regulators. Enter John T. Woodside, president of the Woodside Cotton Mills Company in Greenville, S.C. By 1926, Woodside and his brothers had acquired six cotton mills, one of which was nearly the largest in the nation. Woodside had also developed the 17-story Woodside Building, then South Carolina’s tallest building, and the Poinsett Hotel in downtown Greenville. With times seemingly so good, Woodside turned his focus to Horry County.

Also in 1926, the Myrtle Beach Farms Company conveyed to Woodside nearly all of its land holdings in Horry County between the Waccamaw River and the Atlantic Ocean (retaining the Pavilion property), which was 64,488 acres for $10 an acre. By contrast, the city of Myrtle Beach today consists of 10,752 acres (16.8 square miles). Myrtle Beach Farms wisely decided to provide purchase financing for the massive acquisition and, in turn, retained a mortgage on the property. Woodside immediately commenced development, including construction of the grand Ocean Forest Hotel, Pine Lakes Country Club and the surrounding residential neighborhoods (Woodside Drive still circles Pine Lakes today). The 300-room hotel rivaled the Homestead, Greenbriar, Grove Park and other gilded-age hotels.

On Black Tuesday, Oct. 29, 1929, however, the stock market crashed and with it, so did the Woodside fortune. Woodside soon defaulted on his obligations to Myrtle Beach Farms and other creditors, and Myrtle Beach Farms foreclosed. At an auction in 1933, the property was deeded to the highest bidder, Myrtle Beach Farms Company, for $270,000, perhaps the state’s largest foreclosure, in terms of acreage.