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McKenzie Beach: Clearing but no plans yet for tract, owner says

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Clearing that began last month at the McKenzie Beach property along Highway 17 in Litchfield is not the prelude to development, an owner of the property said this week.

McKenzie Beach was a popular black beach resort in the days when South Carolina’s beaches were segregated. The shell of a motel remains on Highway 17.

“It’s been neglected for a number of years,” said Toddy Smith, one of the owners. “The owners thought it would be nice to clean it up.”

The property stretches from the highway across Clubhouse Creek, taking in about five acres on the beachfront. A foot bridge once led to the beach. It was destroyed by Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

“That’s a pretty property and it has a very interesting history,” Smith said.

The owners, McKenzie Beach LLC, got a county permit last month to demolish a building on the site. That was an old restaurant, and it posed a safety hazard, Smith said.

There are no plans to demolish the motel or other vacant buildings on the site. “That’s not to say it won’t happen,” Smith said. “There are no immediate sale or development plans.”

Some of the construction debris from the restaurant was used to reinforce an earthen causeway that runs across the marsh to the edge of the creek. That prompted a complaint last week to the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management.

“That was all done properly,” Smith said.

The causeway survived Hazel and Hurricane Hugo in 1989. The owners want to maintain it, because it provides access to the beach tract, he said.

The property, which was first developed in the 1930s, drew people from across the state and rivaled Atlantic Beach as a place where blacks were able to enjoy the sand and surf. They were also drawn by the big-name bands that played at its pavilion.

Long-time residents recall paying 10 cents to cross the foot bridge to get to the beach, where there was the pavilion, cabins, a restaurant and other buildings.

They were all washed away by Hurricane Hazel. The motel on the highway was built after the storm.

McKenzie Beach LLC bought the property in 2004.

“I never realized you could see the ocean from the property,” Smith said.

Boyd Johnson, the Georgetown County planning director, said the owners came in and talked about preserving the trees on the site before they started the land clearing.

“It was just a mess,” Smith said. “I would think people would like the fact that we did that.”

But he said people are always asking about the property.

“Everybody thinks when you start doing something you’re going to build a hotel,” Smith said.

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