Myrtle Beach Girls

By Connie Barnard

Myrtle Beach Girls

In 1935, Ruth and George Anne’s parents moved to Myrtle Beach from Wilmington when their father, George W. Trask, Jr., started a farm in conjunction with a thriving family produce business that trucked vegetables to cities throughout the Northeast. The present Mr. Joe White Blvd., then called Farm Road, led to the Trasks’ 300-400 acre plot of land where Toys R Us and Broadway at the Beach sit today. For irrigation, the farm pumped water from the waterway. George Trask also opened Crystal Ice Company which supplied ice for chilling the vegetables as they were shipped north and later made ice deliveries to guest homes along the oceanfront.

Ruth says, “My mother, who had grown up in Wilmington and graduated from the National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C., truly thought she was moving to the end of the world when she arrived here, and to some degree it was.” The beach’s sixty miles of unbroken coastline was largely ignored for many years. Naval stores and shipping trade thrived along the Waccamaw, but the lack of roads across the rivers, swamps and marshes made the beach largely inaccessible into the twentieth century. “Over time, however,” Ruth continues, “Mother came to love it here, and it truly was a great time and place to grow up.”

Ruth and George Anne (whom Ruth affectionately calls “George”) grew up in an impressive brick home which still dominates 37th Avenue between the ocean and Kings Highway. The sisters rode their bikes all over the little town, to the magnificent Ocean Forest Hotel for lunch on its Marine Patio or to the Gloria Theatre for week-end movie matinees. Ruth paid ten cents to ride the city bus to her piano lesson at the Methodist Church. For entertainment, sometimes the sisters and their friends would go to the train depot and watch Mr. Copeland, the town’s mailman, unload the day’s delivery off the train which backed into the station each trip because there was not room for it to turn around. On Saturdays, the girls spent hours skating on the concrete slab that had housed foundations of the old Seaside Inn. George Anne’s fondest memory is finding wonderful shells on the beach unlike any found today, shells so abundant that their father paved the family’s driveway with coquina from the beach near their home.

In those days there were very few hotels in Myrtle Beach. Most beach houses were privately owned by families from North Carolina and the Upstate of South Carolina who spent their summers here. Ruth says, “Those were lovely people, and we got to know most of them. There would be parties and dances every weekend until the beach closed up after Labor Day.” There were also a few guest houses, small establishments from which the hotel industry eventually grew. A sprinkling of these structures can still be found on Chester Street near Mamie’s Kitchen and on Ocean Boulevard in the old Cabana section. Perhaps the best known of these was the Patricia Court which opened in the 2700 block of Ocean Blvd. in 1929. As the business grew, it became the Patricia Inn where the Trasks and most of Myrtle Beach ate Sunday dinner each week, under the watchful eye of “Miss Pat” Ivey and Riley, the revered maitre d’. Like several early hotels, the inn today is a deluxe resort, the Patricia Grand, but longtime residents still miss the elegant white landmark Patricia Inn.

Despite the misconception that still haunts it today, Myrtle Beach was not a cultural backwater. The Trask girls, with their mother and most of the town, attended local performances by the Charleston Dock Street Theatre group. They, and their friends, were thrilled to be chosen as ushers for community concerts featuring such big name stars as ZaSu Pitts and Robert Preston. North Carolina actress and director Jane Barry Haynes came here to direct summer stock theater at the Ocean Forest Hotel, one of the first theaters-in-the-round in the Southeast. The Marine Patio at the Ocean Forest also featured nationally famous bands such as Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo and Count Basie.

Ruth and George Ann’s school, which housed grades 1-12, was located on the site of the current Myrtle Beach Post Office at 505 North Kings Highway. In 1946 this complex was destroyed by fire and for several years classes met in churches and various locations all over town until new schools were built. There were 55 students in Ruth’s graduating class at Myrtle Beach High School, many of whom still live here. They were a close knit group who met after school for Cokes at Nye’s Pharmacy or the Delta Drug Store. They celebrated MBHS football victories at the Canteen, a space provided by Chapin Library and held Junior-Senior proms at the Ocean Forest Hotel. In the 1950s the Pavilion brought in traveling summer shows which they brokered parental permission to attend. It was here that many also experienced the birth of the brand new phenomenon known universally today as Beach Music.

The driving age in South Carolina then was 14, but most young people drove as early 12. Because there were few roads and few residents, this was not a matter of great concern. “The police knew us each by name, and our safety was their main concern,” Ruth said. “If we did anything wrong, the worst thing that would happen is that they would contact our daddies.”

For more than five decades, the center for everything in Myrtle Beach was the Chapin Company store which opened in 1928. Located in the middle of town, this sprawling complex provided groceries, clothing, hardware, fuel oil, furniture, a gift shop, even a doctor’s office. Everyone knew everyone, and it was the place to go for all the local news. Ruth and George Anne’s mother went to Chapin’s every weekday morning at 9:30 to get her groceries for the day. Mr. Butch Taylor, who ran the meat department, knew the cuts Mrs. Trask wanted and always had them waiting for her when she arrived. The store also provided grocery delivery all over town and even put perishable items in the customers’ refrigerators.

In these days before credit and debit cards, Chapin Company customers had charge accounts and settled monthly bills at the store’s pay window. This is also where everyone in town went to cash checks. When the Chapin Company announced its closing after over half a century as the town’s mainstay, Ruth remembers dismayed customers exclaiming, “But where will be go to cash checks?” Vestiges of this important piece of Myrtle Beach history are still evident in the area surrounding Mount Atlanticus Miniature Golf at Kings Highway and Oak Street.

Several significant events in the 1940s and 50s changed the face and the small town culture of Myrtle Beach. The first of these was World War II. The Trask sisters remember black-out sirens and watch towers along the beach where trained volunteers searched the ocean waters for enemy submarines. They remember German POWs housed at the new Myrtle Beach Army Air Corps Base. George Trask hired a number of them to work in his farms. Ruth remembers her father asking Mr. John Swartz, a Myrtle Beach resident originally from Germany, to translate when communication problems arose. George Anne says, “I remember an influx of students from the new military base coming to our school from all over the country.”

The second big event came in 1954 in the form of Hurricane Hazel whose eye passed right over Myrtle Beach early in the morning of October 15. The town was basically obliterated: buildings, piers and dunes on the beach flattened like a pancake, as was most of the coast from Little River to Pawleys Island. Two three-story hotels completely disappeared, and eighty percent of the homes in Myrtle Beach were destroyed or severely damaged. As the area gradually recovered from Hazel, its face changed from quaint to shiny, with hotels replacing the old guests houses, and a new era of Myrtle Beach came into its own.

As the sisters reflect on their lives, both agree they would not want to have been anywhere else. “We lived in a special place at a special time. Myrtle Beach was a safe place to grow up and a safe place to raise our own children. There was little class distinction. We were all just friends,” Ruth says. “I have traveled to many places in the world, but I have not found a strand as beautiful as Myrtle Beach. People come to our beach and never leave.”

About this writer

  • Connie BarnardConnie Barnard traveled the world as a military wife and taught high school and college composition for over 30 years. She has been a regular contributor to Sasee since its first issue in 2002.

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One Response to “Myrtle Beach Girls”

  1. Susan Davis DeWalt says:

    I think I am a cousin of Ruth and George Ann! My father was J. Edward Davis of Wilmington. I remember visiting the Trask home when I was about 8; I remember George Anne and I having a wonderful time together!! My grandparents lived at 1617 Princess St. in Wilmington. I am now 78, live in Charlotte; my husband passed away but my children and grandchildren live near me here in Charlotte. I would LOVE to establish contact with Ruth and George Anne if possible!!

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