Intracoastal dredge

One of the dredges used to dig the Intracoastal Waterway was photographed in 1935 near the Socastee drawbridge. (Photo courtesy of the Horry County Historical Society)

A decision made in the 1930s changed the face of Horry County forever.

Around 1930, a lot of discussion took place about the route of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Many people suggested building a seven-mile canal connecting the Waccamaw River to Little River and then dredging the Waccamaw to make it navigable by large watercraft.

Rick McIver, writing in the Independent Republic Quarterly, recalled the debate taking place.

“The people of Conway were very upset that the Inland Waterway was dug near the ocean,” he wrote. “They contended that the Waccamaw River could have been used, as it flows parallel to the waterway and could have been straightened out and dredged much cheaper than digging a new canal. If the waterway had come by Conway, it would have been a boon to Conway and the area.”

Instead, the federal government chose to dig a huge canal from Little River to Enterprise Landing and then connect it to the Waccamaw River.

McIver wrote that the waterway follows Little River for three miles, passing by one of the oldest settlements in the state, Little River, formerly called Minneola and later known as Yankee Town. Is was a center of the lumber industry.

The canal was dug by two dredges operated by the Standard Dredging Company. They were named the Tampa and the Margate.

Hundreds of local people were employed to help dig the canal.

During the process of digging the waterway, crews exposed fossils that date back thousands of years.

By 1935 the final section of the Intracoastal Waterway had been completed.

The Horry Herald reported on April 9, 1935: “Next Sunday the opening of the last link of the Intracoastal Waterway will be celebrated with a promised spectacular program at 11 a.m.

“The main features is to be at the new bridge over the canal at Socastee. The celebration takes place in Horry County for the reason that the last link in the waterway to be completed appears to be in this section of the county. Other parts of the waterway were completed and used long before any work was done through Horry County.”

A bronze tablet commemorating the completion of the waterway was unveiled by Barbara Ann Pearson, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. T.P. Pearson of Myrtle Beach.

Pearson was manager of the Standard Dredging Company.

A white ribbon was stretched across the waterway and Geraldine Bryan, daughter of Mr. And Mrs. J.E. Bryan of Myrtle Beach, cut the ribbon.

At the time of its completion, the Intracoastal Waterway could be crossed by swing bridges at North Myrtle Beach and Socastee. A railroad bridge that could raised for waterway traffic was also constructed but it would be many years later before U.S. 501 connected Conway to Myrtle Beach.

Some longtime residents still rue the decision to dig a canal instead of using the Waccamaw River, especially when flooding occurs.

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