Anne Tilghman Boyce Coastal Reserve at Waties Island
Imagine what the beach of Myrtle Beach might have looked like before the large condominiums and hotels were built, before restaurants took over the dunes, before the trees and marsh were replaced with pavement, and before the shore was dotted with colorful beach umbrellas and people sunbathing. This is the Anne Tilghman Boyce Coastal Reserve on Waties Island.
Waties Island is just north of Cherry Grove. It was given to Coastal Carolina University’s Coastal Education Foundation by Anne Tilghman Boyce to be used for education and research. And now Coastal Carolina University staff, students, and local K-12 students working with the University, conduct research studies about the natural coastal habitat surrounding us for educational purposes. The Coastal Education Foundation owns one-third of the island, which is approximately 1105 acres of undeveloped beach, fresh and salt water marshes, tidal creeks, and upland woods. The Tilghman family owns one-third and a gentleman form New England owns the other third.
Waties Island is not open to the public, and Kelly and I were only able to visit as staff invited by the Coastal Carolina University Human Resources Department. But the history of the Island is relevant to the area and the island’s beauty can be viewed by boat.
Ben Burroughs, the historian of Horry County, led our tour of Waties Island. Around 1694, William Waties, Sr. settled in the Charleston area and started a trading post at Yauhannah/Great Bluff in order to trade with the Waccamaw Indians north of the Santee River. There is still evidence of Indian life found on the island today. The Island was named after either William Waties Jr. or Sr. Horace Tilghman purchased the island in the 1920s and it has remained mostly in the Tilghman family since.
Although you can get to the island by car today, at one time you could only travel there by boat. Some of the history Ben talked about included that the island once boasted stables and a popular dance hall. And since salt was such a commodity salt houses had been built on one side of the island and destroyed by enemies multiple times during various wars in an effort to create hardship for the troops trying to store food by means of preservation by salt.
Volunteers now walk the pristine beach daily to document logger-head turtle nests – we saw two nests on our visit. They also pick up trash that washes ashore – they said they find a lot of sunglasses! I was struck by how high the sand dunes were and how they truly made a barrier from the marsh to the ocean. There were so many sea oats lining the shore and the sand almost looked white. We walked the beach looking for shells but there didn’t seem to be much of an assortment that day. We were told that you usually can find some pretty impressive, in-tact shells. We walked the water line where fish darted back and forth in the tidal pools being created by the out-going tide.
I love history and I love stories. And even though the public can’t stake out their beach chairs and umbrellas and enjoy this beach that has been untouched by time, it is comforting to know that there are people in the area who know it is important to preserve a little history.