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The many coasts of South Carolina; the "kingdom by the sea" is diverse enough to satisfy even the most princely of tastes.

The "kingdom by the sea" is diverse enough to satisfy even the most princely of tastes.

On Hilton Head Island, Fortune 500 conventioneers, sunburned from a company golf tournament, drive down the William Hilton Parkway toward the Marriott hotel for a live, face-to-face teleconference with their firm's West Coast brethren. Near Singleton Beach, their shuttle bus passes an overalled, white-haired black man, plowing his garden behind a single horsepower.

A hundred miles up the coast at the entrance to Charleston Harbor, a tour boat passes within grapeshotdistance of Fort Sumter-the target o"second shot heard round the world" fired in 1861, beginning the American Civil War. Nearby, a nuclear-powered submarine slinks into the harbor and sails toward Charleston Naval Base at the mouth of the Cooper River.

Sixty-five miles farther north, in Georgetown, the ghost of a saberdecapitated British sentry prowls the Black River Swamp with a hurricane lamp, looking for his head. Overhead, jets from the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base streak for home.

All this is by way of demonstrating that there are many South Carolina coasts, many contrasts: northern and southern, Grand Strand an"sea islands." Rich and poor, old and new, past and present, the 19th and the 20th centuries sit seamlessly cheek by jowl.

The socioeconomic spectrum is extreme, ranging ftom the posh condos of Hilton Head (where a seaside townhome in Port Royal Plantation can run half a million dollars) to the Gullah cadences of McClellanville and Johns Island and Cape Romain, where tarpaper shanties and livelihoods eked from the swamp with a wooden "bateau boat" bespeak a centuries-old way of life.

Geographically, the 185 -mile coastline is itself a contrast, dividing neatly into two sections: the northern "Grand Strand," its hub Myrtle Beach; and the southernmost sea islands, anchored by tennis-shoeshaped Hilton Head. (The three-century-old port city of Charleston [pop. 275,000] sits more or less between them.) North, at Myrtle Beach, the coast breasts toward the Gulf Stream. For this reason, the Myrtle Beach area is better for surfing, surf casting, and offshore fishing, especially for such blue-water species as king marlin and dorado. Mickey Spillane lives here at Murrells Inlet and fishes in an annual billfish tournament named for him.

Below, on the southern half, where the coast dips in toward Savannah, are the myria"sea islands" (not to be confused, incidentally, with Georgia's famed Sea Island, site of the five-star Cloister hotel). Here, South Carolina's great black-water rivers-Waccamaw, Santee, Sampit, Ashley, Cooper, and Savannah-pour into the sea, their detritus giving rise to deltas and the hundredfold coastal islands. Among them is Hilton Head, said to be the largest island on the East Coast between New Jersey and Florida (some sources say Georgia's Cumberland Island is slightly larger). Other of the larger sea islands include Sullivans, Folly, Seabrook, Edisto, and Fripp, as well as Hunting Island, the site of a wonderful oceanfront state park.

And, of course, this is to speak only of the major islands. The smaller marsh islands are numberless. There are hundreds in Hilton Head's Beaufort County alone, accounting for the area's popularity with rumrunners during Prohibition and with drugsmugglers today. For anglers, this is the area of salt-marsh creeks where flounder, trout, and spottail bass are caught with live shrimp over oyster beds o "rakes."

Time itself has set up yet another contrast: a South Carolina coast of the "then and now"; an area with 250 years of history before America was even born. Your writer's acquaintance with the coast extends back 35 years when, for an unbroken string of boyhood summers, his family occupied the Thompson House on Pawleys Island. In the '5Os a young boy could fall in love with the girl-nextdoor every summer. (One year she spoke with an English accent like Hayley Mills'.) The bathing suits might have had something to do with it: under the influence of the touristic Outside World, they shrunk magically year by year. In the coming years, as the interstate highway system took shape and the Sunbelt caught on with the North and, finally, Canada, the Carolina coast was "discovered" all over again.

As the touro-dollars poured in, the reinforced concrete was poured down. And as the hotels and condos went up, the tennis courts and the putting greens went down. As a result, today the coast is a sporting wonderland-one sandtrapped-andcharterboated megaresort, stretching from Myrtle Beach clear down to Hilton Head, broken only by such coastal wildlife sanctuaries as Cape Romain and Hobcaw Barony and by privately held islands such as Ted Turner's St. Phillips.

Within this narrow strip, there are nearly 1,800 holes of golf. Golf occupies an important place in South Carolina: Harleston's Green may have been the first golf club (1789) in America! The Hilton Head area alone has more than 500 holes-several of them in the nation's Top 100. And there are easily a thousand tennis courts-including 300 on Hilton Head, the world's largest tennis resort by far.

There is also the inevitable contrast of town and country. The historic port city of Charleston is truly that most shopworn of brochure clichbsthe "living museum." This Charleston time-tunnel effect is so authentic, so vivid, that miniseries producers shot John Jakes' Civil War opus, Love and War, on location here with hardly more than a property-master.

Take a leisurely carriage tour down the caverns of moss-draped live oak. On the cobblestones, the steelrimmed, wooden carriage wheels will loosen your fillings, but it seems as if you're on the set of Gone with the Wind-which was, incidentally, filmed nearby.

Edgar Allan Poe's "kingdom by the sea"-where his child bride, Annabel Lee, lived and died and where Poe's classic horror story "The Gold Bug" is set-has played a pivotal role in American history. Its starring role, however, was the American Civil War. Charleston's historic Hibernian Hall was Stephen Douglas' headquarters during the 1860 Democratic National Convention, held across the street. During the convention Douglas stayed next door to Hibernian Hall in the Mills House. When the delegates split over slavery, producing two presidential candidates, the "minority" election of Abraham Lincoln was assured. The first shot of the Civil War was fired not long after or far away.

Today, Hibernian Hall still plays an important role in the city's civic and cultural affairs, and the guest register of the reconstructed Mills House features the likes of Gerald Ford, Elizabeth Taylor, and Hal Holbrook.

Georgetown, lying to the north of Charleston at the back of Winyah Bay, begins the Grand Strand. (At the mouth of the bay, North Island is the last of the sea islands.) Once America's rice capital-and, as a result, today widely known for its waterfowling and its Rice Museum-Georgetown has been dubbed the "Ghost Capital of the South" for its 300-plus resident "h'ants."

You've already met the headless Ghost of Wedgefield Plantation. The Sad Young Lady of Highmarket Street was only 17 when she committed suicide over a broken engagement. For 250 years, on stormy nights, her bloodless, candlelit face has been seen in a dormer window, watching the sea for her faithless seaman-lover.

Thirty-four miles up the coast from Georgetown, the boardwalk-and-ferris-wheel city of Myrtle Beach, the capital of the Grand Strand, could be accurately described as a "permanent state fair." Myrtle's high-rise oceanfront is Waikiki Beach with a pinch of "y'all." At the Pavilion, long lines of masochists form for the corkscrew roller coaster and a cardiac-arrest machine called the Mind Scrambler. Yet, a few miles north on U.S. 17 ("the Ocean Highway"), on a large, multimillion-dollar oceanfront tract, the Center for Meditation in the Western World maintains a discrete presence. The coast of contrasts. . . .

There is a final closing contrast, another "then and now," an optimistic one that reveals everywhere along the coast the omnipresence of growth-in-change. A famous line, much quoted in earlier days, came from Hamilton Basso's The View from Pompey's Head, an account of the state during and after Reconstruction: "South Carolina, South Carolina," he wrote. "Too poor to paint, too proud to whitewash."

Today, the coastal South Carolina construction dilemma is between stucco and steel beam, cypress siding and prestressed concrete.
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Author:Mills, Sam
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:May 1, 1988
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