Pirates, bootleggers a part of Little River's colorful history

In Your Community: Little River History

LITTLE RIVER, SC (WMBF) - Native Americans, Spanish explorers, pirates and bootleggers are all said to have once called Little River their own, peppering the history of this sleepy hollow with some incredible stories.

Nancy Russell and Hilda T. Barnes helped write the first book ever to document the history of Little River. As part of the Little River United Methodist Church, they tackled the project: "The Spirit of Little River."

"It is believed that people like Stede Bonnet or Black Beard were probably in this area because pirates needed places to hide, and Little River was a little opening into some safe harborage," Russell says. "They could duck in and duck back out."

For several hundred years, this corner of the county was occupied by fur traders, small, isolated farmers, and forestry workers. By the 1850's, it was a prosperous port that traded with the northern markets.

Russell goes on, "Actually Little River was, before the war, was more Northern-looking. Based on where they were and where their commerce took place, they were kind of unionist."

Little River was the first settlement in Horry County prior to Kingston Township, what's now known as Conway.

Its geography, however, left Little River secluded, meaning the port town was behind the times on advances like running water, indoor plumbing and electricity. In fact, Little River didn't turn the lights on until more than 30 years after Conway did.

With few bridges and roads going in and out, traveling wasn't common unless farmers were heading to the market.

"There are stories in the early 1900's that the way you went to Myrtle Beach was to take a buggy to Conway via Highway 90, or what is today Highway 90, and then take a train to Myrtle Beach, because the only other way to go out on the Grand Strand was to ride a horse on the sands and hope you didn't get caught in the swashes," Russell says.

Wes Berry remembers the days when cars were still a luxury. "We had wagons that we hauled everything in," he recalls.

Moving to Little River in the 1930's at the age of four, he describes growing up here as "simple."

"I was probably 11 years old when we first got electricity. We always had kerosene oil lamps and it was really hard to see by them at night," says Berry.

The perks of living on the water meant an opportunity for fresh catches and a chance to earn money.

"All the boys around Little River, I guess they called us the Rat Pack. Anybody that wanted to work could go down and de-head the shrimp down here, and they would pay us 25 cents a bucket," Berry recalls.

That was spent mostly on sodas and candy - gold in the eyes of these young boys.

While the years have zoomed by for Wes and the dirt roads that were once "paved" with oyster shells have been upgraded, for him, Little River will always be home.

There are also stories of rum runners who used the port to their advantage because it offered an easy way to load and unload the goods. Rumors even persist that JFK's Father, Joseph Kennedy, made a killing in these parts during prohibition, with several people saying they spotted him in this area.

Additional Information:

Proceeds from "the Spirit of Little River" go to benefit a community center that's been built to service the local neighborhood. If you want to learn more about the book, go to this link: