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History: Mabel Hamilton will join Women’s Hall of Fame

The Georgetown County Women’s Hall of Fame will induct its fourth member at a luncheon next week. Mabel Hamilton, a former teacher who was active in community service, will be the fourth member of the Hall of Fame maintained by the Georgetown County Museum.

The luncheon is March 20 at DeBordieu. Tickets are $30. Call the museum by March 15 at 545-7020 for reservations.

Following her 95th birthday in 2007, she talked with the Coastal Observer about her experiences on Pawleys Island:

PAWLEYS ISLAND (Jan. 18, 2007) When Mabel Hamilton was growing up, she and her family spent every summer on Pawleys Island. That was in the days before electricity and indoor plumbing.

Her father owned Waccamaw Power Co., so the family certainly recognized electricity as a convenience, but they didn’t miss it when they were on the island.

“We thought it was heaven,” Hamilton said. “We liked it that way, but we weren’t sad when power finally got to the island. It was a shame to get the telephone, though. After that, the world could reach out to you. Before the telephone, you could go to Pawleys and get away. It was a different world there.”

Pawleys Island is a place Mabel Hamilton said she has always been drawn to, with it’s breathtaking beaches, quaint old houses and overwhelming sense of history.

A Georgetown resident, Hamilton still enjoys vacations spent on the island, where she and her family own a beach house and gather for special occasions.

The most recent of those was Hamilton’s 95th birthday earlier this month. It was a grand occasion with so many loved ones there to share it, Hamilton said, and it brought back a flood of memories of other days spent on the island.

The community, with it’s million-dollar homes and crowded beaches, is a far cry from the Pawleys of Hamilton’s youth, she said.

Clear as if it were yesterday, Hamilton can recall what the island used to be and she has a hard time believing how much it’s changed in less than a century.

“I never imagined then it would turn into what it is now, with all those tremendous houses with the huge prices,” Hamilton said. “Nobody would have thought that, but different as it is, I still love it.”

When Hamilton was a girl, the Waccamaw Neck was accessible only by taking a boat across the river from Georgetown to either Hagley or Waverly Mills. The Hamiltons usually took a ferry called the Comanche, but Capt. Julian Lachicotte also took passengers in his cabin cruiser.

“Back then, when you got to Pawleys Island, you stayed there and you came prepared to stay,” Hamilton said. “Whatever you needed, you brought with you.”

There were bridges across the creeks and families would get supplies from a general store on the North Causeway where Walgreen’s now stands. It also housed the post office. Hamilton can remember taking a horse and buggy across the creek to pick up the mail.

If anyone on the island needed a doctor, they had to go back to Georgetown. If anyone was unfortunate enough to need a hospital, they would have to go to Florence, a trip that could take three or four hours on mostly dirt roads.

“It had to be something really grave for anybody to go to the hospital,” Hamilton said.

There were few places to stay on the island, since in the early 1900s most of the north end was undeveloped. From where the North Causeway is, people could walk all the way up to the Midway Inlet and see nothing but sand dunes and seagulls, Hamilton said. Most of the existing houses were in what is today known as the historic district.

The houses were simple, old and unkempt, Hamilton said, and the rent was low. She said she often wondered how people made a profit from the inns and boarding houses.

Most of the houses had no screens on the windows and doors, so people would bring screen to tack up at the houses where they stayed. All the houses were behind the dunes, which were much larger then, and sand would blow in over the porch and under the doors during the winter. When families arrived for the summer, the first thing they had to do was sweep out the sand.

There were creek boys who made their money catching crabs and shrimp for families on the island. Hamilton said they would come around every morning to see what each family wanted, then go out to the creek to fill the order.

“My mother and her friend spent all their time cleaning crabs or picking shrimp,” Hamilton said. “My father would complain that she was so busy working, she never got any rest during our stays.”

Every summer, the island was occupied by only a handful of people, most of whom were regulars who traveled from the Piedmont and Midlands.

The same people tended to return every year, they all knew one another and developed friendships.

When Hamilton went to study at Winthrop College in Rock Hill in 1929, she was relieved to find she knew a number of the students from vacations at Pawleys.

Hamilton’s family usually stayed at a boarding house, but other years they would rent a house.

Hamilton recalled “a terrible summer” spent at Pawley House.

“Oh, it was miserable,” she said. “It rained about every day and the roof leaked. There was a porch between the kitchen and the dining room and you had to cover all the food from one place to the other or it would be soaking wet before you ate it.”

Hamilton played so much bridge that summer that by the time the family returned to Georgetown, she’d had more than her fill of it.

On most nights, people on the island went to the Pawleys Pavilion to dance and talk. There were actually four pavilions in the course of Pawleys Island history. The last was destroyed by fire in 1970.

Hamilton remembers dancing at the first pavilion when she was about 12. She and a friend, Charles Farlley, would be admitted for free as long as they agreed to dance and get the adults out on the floor, too.

Days were spent on the beach or in the creek. That hasn’t changed, though many of the activities and certainly the fashions have.

Hamilton remembers riding ponies on the beach as a child.

During a week spent on the island after she graduated from Winyah High School, Hamilton and her friends sported the newest style, beach pajamas, which consisted of a loose top and wide-legged trousers made from a lightweight material.

In later summers, the family stayed at Boo’s Inn, which, like the boarding house, was owned by the Lachicottes.

During one of the family’s stays there, they received word that a hurricane was coming. Forecasting then, of course, wasn’t what it is today.

“We had about a day or a day and a half for notice,” Hamilton said. “It was never much more than that.”

Hamilton said the family got word in time to move across the creek to Cedar Grove to ride out the storm. She remembers being disappointed that the family had gone to all that effort and the storm didn’t hit.

She remembers other storms that did affect the island, including Hurricane Hazel in 1954, which she said changed the face of Pawleys by opening up the creek on the south end.

Then in 1989, Hurricane Hugo destroyed many of the older houses on the island.

Hamilton met her husband, Legaré, on the island at a party in 1933, “during the dead of the Depression.” They couldn’t afford to get married until 1937.

The union produced Samuel, Legaré Jr. and Molly. Hamilton now has three granddaughters and 12 great-grandchildren.

After marrying, Hamilton said, she had to give up her job as a teacher, because “they said a man might need it to support his family.” She later went back to teaching and spent 26 years at Winyah High.

Over the river in Georgetown, Hamilton remembers her family would leave their home unlocked the entire time they were at the island, confident it would be safe while they were away.

The street lights weren’t turned on during a full moon and she also recalls the streets in Georgetown were paved with crushed oyster shells and after a rain, “we had mother of pearl streets.”

After 95 years, Hamilton said she doesn’t feel particularly wise. She’s still learning every day, from every experience, but she knows one thing for certain.

“I know I’m a small town person and I’ve never like any other place as much as I like Georgetown and Pawleys Island. I wouldn’t want to live any where else.”

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