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Highway 17: Visitor’s legacy will pay for new landscaping

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Invigorated by a bequest in a man’s will, the Pawleys Island Highway Beautification Program will seek county accommodation tax funds and donations from businesses to add more plants to the Highway 17 median south of Smalls Loop.

Samuel Miller left the beautification group $10,669 in memory of his wife, Rosetta. “She loved Pawleys Island,” said Mary Doerr, a friend who would ferry visiting actors — Doris Roberts was a frequent guest — and celebrities from the Myrtle Beach airport to the Millers’ oceanfront house, “Tottering On The Drink,” at 700 Springs Ave.

Mrs. Miller inherited the house at Pawleys Island and a considerable fortune from her uncle, Doerr said, but she came from money. In 1993, she gave 197 acres of longleaf pine habitat in Aiken County to the state Department of Natural Resources. The Henderson Heritage Preserve is named for her grandfather, Frank P. Henderson, who was a former mayor of Aiken. The Millers owned homes in Pawleys Island, Manhattan and Sarasota, Fla. “They lived the good life,” Doerr said, “renting a villa in Italy before coming to Pawleys Island every May.”

The former Rosetta Averill was born in Columbia and was valedictorian of her class at Dreher High School. She studied acting at the American Theatre Wing in New York City. She turned to cabaret singing in Manhattan clubs but retired when she inherited her uncle’s fortune in 1991. She insisted on keeping the house as it was in her childhood, even as neighbors were building bigger houses to replace those lost to Hurricane Hugo in 1989. “It was so important to leave that house as it was,” said Doerr. “She thought it was ridiculous for someone to come to the beach and have air conditioning and carpeting.”

A flashy person with a husky voice, Mrs. Miller never lost her flair for the theatrical and was renowned for her eye-catching clothes and jewelry. “She was larger than life,” said Betsy Altman of Pawleys Island Realty, the firm that handled her island property. “It was all big bangled bracelets and real big jewelry. She was a small woman but very loud, New York loud. She loved everyone and always wanted you to come see her. She always was so much fun and loved Pawleys.”

At her beach house, Mrs. Miller would hang the necklaces in the living room as conversation pieces, Doerr said.

But it was the simplicity of the island that appealed to her. Her cook served lunch on a picnic table on the porch overlooking the creek. After a swim, guests would nap before cocktails and dinner. “It was like nothing these people had ever experienced,” Doerr said. “Every person who came absolutely loved it.”

The Pawleys Island beautification group received 5 percent of Mr. Miller’s estate in August. The majority went to the Newark Museum, where he had been curator, and the Aiken Center for the Arts. Pawleys Island Highway Beautification President Leo Harootyan said the money will be used to buy 15 crape myrtles, 212 loropetalum (also known as fringe flower) and 62 sweet grass plants.

Treasurer Judy Jarvis will submit a request to the Georgetown County Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee for $19,928 to complete the median landscaping between Hagley Drive and Smalls Loop. Landscape architect Jean Rothrock presented a plan to add crape myrtles, sweet grass, day lilies, loropetalum, majestic beauty and sable minors to enhance and extend the initial smaller pods and complete the median’s northern end before extending the landscaping south to Hog Heaven. The tax advisory panel recommended against the Pawleys Island group’s request for money to add plants in the spring but approved $21,000 for maintenance of the existing landscaping. The group plans to seek maintenance funds in the spring for its existing median and the new median between Waverly and Martin Luther King roads.

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