Lowcountry Heritage & Nature
By Kimberly Duncan
New Historical Marker in Pawleys
In the summer of 2021, a new historical marker will pay homage to the Pawleys Island Chapel. Supervised by the state’s Department of Archives and History, the marker will join eight others on the Island and more than 1,700 across the state.
Painted black-on-silver and crowned by an emblem of the Palmetto State’s flag, the SC Historical Markers Program marks and interprets places important to understanding the state’s past. Established in 1936 and among the oldest state-managed historical marker programs in the nation, the markers serve up bite-sized pieces of history that tell big stories.
Locals and visitors are happy to see the Chapel recognized. Read on for more info about the iconic little building and Pawleys Island’s larger Historic District!
Pawleys Island Chapel
A pretty little church sits perched at the very edge of the marsh in Pawleys Island. Over many years, it has become a cherished Pawleys Island icon that has been the subject of many an artist’s brush and many a photographer’s keen eye. Although formally named the Pawleys Island House of Worship, everyone who knows anything about our Island knows it more simply as the Pawleys Island Chapel.
It is said Pawleys Island is the oldest resort community in America, so summer has long brought a cherished measure of hustle and bustle to the Island. In the early 1900s, summer residents and guests started exploring the possibility of a summer chapel. The notion gained supporters and the Chapel opened for services in 1947.
The modest little sanctuary was not built in place. It was originally a Pentecostal Holiness Church in Georgetown that was carefully dismantled and reassembled on a slip of donated land overlooking the marsh and creeks of the Island’s landward side.
The Chapel survived two major hurricanes – Hazel (1954) and Hugo (1989) – and a string of lesser storms. There was severe damage after Hugo but, amazingly, the pews and the portrait of Jesus survived the “Storm of the Century’s” mighty saltwater surge.
During the summer months, visiting ministers typically hold non-denominational services each Sunday at 10 AM. The small sanctuary has breathtaking views and is a memorable place to celebrate marriages, baptisms, and other special occasions. Roughly two hundred people can enjoy worshipping with a lack of pretense that is the calling card for Pawleys Island’s “arrogantly shabby” sensibilities.
Pawleys Island Historic District
Pawleys Island has the distinction of being one of the only SC sea islands where original antebellum and late-nineteenth-century beach homes still survive. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, the district is comprised of twelve buildings ranging from circa 1780 to post World War I. The architectural style is predominantly West Indian with adaptations for Pawleys hot, humid climate.
Many of these summer retreats were originally used by plantation owners who relocated to the shoreline when outbreaks of malaria plagued their landholdings farther inland. Solidly built and sized to accommodate big families, they were designed with wraparound porches for optimum ventilation. The houses are also equipped with large fireplaces and chimneys for chillier months.
Each of these homes has survived several major hurricanes that decimated most other parts of the small island, most notably Hurricanes Hazel in 1955 and Hugo – which has come to be known as the “Storm of the Century” in 1989.
Following is a brief description of a fistful of the homes included in the Historic District:
- The Joseph Blyth Allston House (Pawley House), built circa 1800, stands on land that once belonged to R.F.W. Allston, Governor of SC from 1856-58. Allston’s nephew, Joseph Blyth Allston, is believed to have moved the house here circa 1866. Mortise and tenon joints with pegs can still be seen under the house.
- The Ward House/Liberty Lodge has the original hand-hewn sills and joints and stands on land once owned by Joshua J. Ward, a renowned rice planter and state Lieutenant Governor from 1850-52. One of the oldest houses on the island the Ward House is believed to have been moved to its seaside home after 1858.
- The Nesbit/Norburn House was on the Island by 1842. It was owned by Robert Nesbit, a native from Scotland and a rice planter. He also owned nearby Caledonia Plantation which is now a world-class, crazy beautiful golf course.
- The All Saints Summer Parsonage/Rectory and the All Saints Academy Summer House, belonged to All Saints’ Church. The Summer Parsonage, built by 1848, was where planters’ evening summer services were held. The Summer Academy, constructed between 1838 and 1848, was the summer residence of the area rice planters’ children’s school headmaster.
- The P.C.J. Weston House/Pelican Inn, pre-civil War summer residence of rice plantation owner Plowden Charles Jenerette Weston, was constructed of numbered cypress planks brought across the creek from his nearby Hagley Plantation. (See separate article.)
Except for the Pelican Inn, each of the Pawleys Island Historic District homes is a private residence. All the homes are easily seen from Myrtle Avenue, which runs the length of the Island, but they are not open for public tours. Since Myrtle Avenue is a two-lane road, to view each marker if is suggested to head to the southernmost end of the Island and park. You can access the beach or take a walk to see the historical markers up close. If you’re a history buff, you might want to invest in the book A Guidebook to South Carolina Historical Markers published by the University of SC Press, uscpress.com.
The Pelican Inn
The Pelican Inn, long known as a picturesque bed and breakfast, was constructed in the 1840s. It is one of only a few summer sanctuaries originally constructed on Pawleys Island by a distinguished roster of Lowcountry rice plantation owners.
Built as the summer home for Plowden Charles Jenrette Weston of Hagley Plantation, the architecture of the Inn is representative of a majority of the island’s original houses. They were commonly made with cypress lumber, wooden pegs, mortise and tenon joints, and hand-cut nails. More than a century and a half later, wide, wraparound porches continue to work their magic by utilizing ocean breezes to cool the home’s interior.
Weston chose his property judiciously. Not only does the Pelican Inn sit behind the Island’s highest dunes, but it is also protected by wind-twisted oaks that line the beach-bound boardwalk and provide an additional barrier between the Inn and shoreline. These features have helped protect the building from a long line of storms that lay waste to other Island homes. In addition to the beach, a private dock stretches west above the salt marsh and is perfect for sunset vistas and throwing crab traps.
Guests awaken in the morning to the smell of biscuits fresh from the oven. Children spend hours catching fiddler crabs. Porch hammocks are perfect for whiling away lazy afternoons. Now, as ever, Southern hospitality and fine cuisine remain the order of every day. Take the opportunity to sample it sometime. Visit pawleyspelican.com for details everyone needs to know!