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McKenzie Beach Motel, US-17 at Litchfield Beach: late 1950s   32 comments

Posted at 2:42 am in closing

This motel is a landmark which has existed for all of my life, but which I never (in memory) saw until 2006. This motel is on the east side of US-17, just south of Gullie's Shell station, and north of the Georgetown credit union. To say that by 2006 I had driven this stretch of road more than a few times understates it a bit, but I never had the least clue that there were buildings just off the road -- the whole place was so overgrown as to be completely invisible. Apparently the lot was partially cleared late in 2005, and when I was down that winter, I had quite a What the heck did I just drive by? moment as I passed by the first time after that.

Graphitti in a concrete slab at the old office building dates this place to early 1956, and the fixtures all have that mid 50s look as well. In fact, the bathroom tile looks a good bit like what I have at home which is almost exactly the same vintage. I have no idea what happened to the place. It certainly wasn't (and isn't) uncommon for Grand Strand businesses to fail, and the south strand was very isolated and non-commercialized for quite a while. For years the abandoned cabins of another motel sat at the South Causeway of Pawleys Island, more or less where the Food Lion now is. In fact for years, the only motel south of Murrells Inlet was the Quality Inn Seagull -- most people then and now rented houses to vacation in the area.

The whole area is being further cleared now, all the way back to the marsh. I suspect work would have started sooner after the initial clearing of the motel except for the economy. At any rate, I suspect the whole thing will be houses before too long, and I fully expect the motel to be knocked down before the year is out. (I've already got my shower handle, to go with my other one from Douglas.)

If anyone knows what the motel was called, when it closed, or why it closed, sound off!

UPDATE 17 Dec 2010: Please read the comments to this post. It turns out that this motel was part of a black resort dating back to Jim Crow times when black residents (and visitors) had very few options for enjoying a day at the beach. Thankfully those days are gone, but it is very interesting reading.

Also, I have for sale in the store a picture of the motel that I think turned out very well:

UPDATE 23 September 2012 -- Here are some pictures taken in December of 2011. Unfortunately, it was a overcast day, so they are not very vivid. They do however show some of what remains behind the old motel.

As I wrote in the comments below, I can recall at least once, and perhaps twice, being taken by my mother to an old amusement park at the south end of Litchfield Beach. This was probably around 1965 or 1966, and the amusement park was closed for good at the time (and my mother knew that, she just wanted to look around, not take me to ride anything). I remember in particular that there was a small-guage train track laid in a circle (possible around the whole park?) and that at the time the train was still in a shed/station built over the track. I don't think we actually went onto the property, as I just recall seeing it from a distance. I can't help thinking this was what was left of the McKenzie Beach resort. I suppose that after Jim Crow ended, it would have had to compete with Myrtle Beach. I also remember that we drove almost up to the park, so I'm thinking that we were on this road here, which is now (since every street had to be named for 9-1-1 service) called "Old Beach Road".

It does not now go all the way to the beach, but stops about halfway out into the marsh. Here we are looking from the creek bank out into the marsh along the road:

In these two pictures, we are looking back from near the end of the road toward US-17 and the old motel property:

These three pictures show the current end of the road, which kind of peters out by a picturesque tree:

On past the tree are the remains of some sort of structure with poles in the distance marking the remnants of some sort of creek dock or boardwalk (I suppose):

This is looking back through the tree towards US-17:

Approaching US-17 and the creek bank again, the road shifts from a built-up (and timber-retained) bed to just tracks through the dirt. You can see on the left the shell of some old commercial building (a restaurant perhaps?) on the bank of the creek. The next shots get a bit more detail on it. It is pretty much completely open to the air now:

This appears to be an old house. It's on the north-east side of the motel lot, or perhaps it's on the next lot over:

Here is another cinder-block building on the property. I would guess it was some sort of storage or utility building:


Photoset 4 December 2011

UPDATE 7 September 2022 -- This Post & Courier article explains to some extent why this property has lain fallow for so long. The long and short of it is that the ownership is very fragmented with some large holders and lots of heirs owning small pieces of property. It also explains why the original resort went under, leading to the current situation: It comes down to Hurricane Hazel.

Here is another article from SC Picture Project.

I'm also adding a map icon.

32 Responses to 'McKenzie Beach Motel, US-17 at Litchfield Beach: late 1950s'

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  1. I know it's progress and time marches on, but still, it is kind of sad in a way. One can almost feel/hear the last gasp of this ghost and all it's memories as it prepares to be gone forever.


    6 Jun 10 at 9:53 pm

  2. Awesome pictures! Good thing you got them now. It looks like that place is about to be demolished.

    My house was built in 1960. I have the same tiles. Pink in one bathroom, blue in the other.


    14 Jun 10 at 9:33 am

  3. I didn't notice this before, but the date inscribed in the concrete is my birthdate. The condition of this place is almost a perfect metaphor for my life lately, sad but true.

    Michael Taylor

    14 Jun 10 at 8:04 pm

  4. I was just down there and my aunt and I were talking about this place! I cannot, for the life of me, remember what she said the name of this place was. I do remember that it was an old motel, that had not been open in a long time, and that during part if its time, it was considered a "black" motel-- I assume during segregationist years when "white" motels would not allow non-whites. I can't remember what else she knew about it, will have to ask and post if I get any updates.


    8 Jul 10 at 2:42 pm

  5. Until this article appeared in the Coastal Observer, I had no idea that McKenzie Beach ever existed. It was a black beach on the Southern tip of Litchfield.


    31 Jul 10 at 2:24 pm

  6. Here is another CO article about the property.


    31 Jul 10 at 2:27 pm

  7. Thanks Joel!


    31 Jul 10 at 3:30 pm

  8. Big names used to "Stay 'n Play" at the Magnolia Beach Club including Billie Holliday, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. This was the same place, but before the hotel, as shown in the pictures, was built.

    Fast forward to page 23
    then look for the heading "Magnolia Beach Club"


    1 Sep 10 at 12:39 am

  9. Very intersting! Everyone should read that..


    1 Sep 10 at 1:04 am

  10. There is another building on the property closer to the marsh. Do you know what it was used for? I have been told that this property has been designated "historic" which will limit it's use. How do you research that? This is a super interesting unknown in this area. There was a wedding I believe this Spring (2011) You can see that monies have been invested in the new fencing on the highway portion of the property. If you come across more information on this beach please let me know.



    27 Jun 11 at 7:49 pm

  11. I wish I had walked out there the day I took all the pictures with the pickups and earth-movers in them. Since then the place has been fenced off and posted. Maybe I'll walk in on the marsh side someday.


    27 Jun 11 at 10:43 pm

  12. For many years now as long time visitors to the area, it has been a mystery to us just what was that abandoned property? Matter of fact a week or so ago we stopped, bribed our husbands to pull into the drive, and my friend Jane and I took tons of photos of the site. We are wondering what the building toward the marsh might be. Does anyone know? I never thought that I would or could ever find as much information about the site which I now know as the Magnolia Beach Club. Wow I am thrilled. It does prove that there is more to the Grand Strand than just golf. I must recommend that when visiting the Lowcountry make sure to learn all the history, culture, and lore of the area.


    12 Nov 11 at 6:00 pm

  13. I keep meaning to get back to the marshside building, but haven't yet..

    I remember now that when I was small, my mother took me to the south tip of LItchfield beach and showed me a small amusement park there. I remember specifically a little train that ran on a track around the place, but the whole place was closed and though I kept wanting to go back and see the train (which I think was still in a shed there) we never did. This probably would have been around 1967, and I wonder now if this was part of the remains of the McKenzie beach resort.


    12 Nov 11 at 6:19 pm

  14. Driving from south west Saskatchewan through the east part of the American heartland, there's plenty of history to see, and all of it impressive. Doing it through the heat wave of 2012 made it pretty tough to see the the bread basket of the country drying up. We got to South Carolina chompin at the bit to see family that have been livin there for twenty plus years. Our visit to Magnolia Beach Club was an idea my sister in-law had. Meaghan Whitney and her husband Jim gave us a pretty good history of the old resort and some of its memorable acts that travelled the jazz/blues circuit between the south to the north, making history all the way. I am still thrilled to look at those stunning photographs she took of our family, and see the grand place that had once been.

    Sean Whitney

    15 Dec 12 at 1:26 am

  15. I was at the site October 2012 and took pictures of the motel, Old Beach Road / causeway and the pavilion (Magnolia Beach Club?) on the marsh. I showed the pictures to an elderly gentleman walking on Rt. 17 near the Litchfield restaurant. I believe his name was Willie and he told me he had stayed at the resort with his family. A little background history from our discussion. McKenzie Beach was one of two black beaches in the Carolinas (not sure over what time period). The other beach, where blacks were allowed to visit, was Atlantic Beach in NC. McKenzie Beach was very popular with the black community in the area because it was the only resort with lodging (Atlantic Beach did not have lodging). It was popular with families from Charleston because of the ability to stay overnight. Equally important, the lodging allowed the likes of Count Basie and Duke Ellington to stay and perform at the resort.

    Once we had covered a little bit of the history of the area, I was told a couple of interesting stories. For instance, I was told that there was a pool/pond where they had a captured dolphin as one of the resorts attractions. I have not verified this beyond what I was told by Willie. Seeing my skepticism and my questions for additional details, he mentioned that there are several others in the area who have first hand information as well as photos dating back to the 30s and 40s. In particular, he mentioned there is a gentleman who drives a white pickup truck in the Litchfield area who has a lot of the history of McKenzie Beach. Willie was not sure whether he stayed at the resort or worked there. Since I was heading back home to Washington the next day, I was unable to track down the unnamed gentleman in the white pickup truck. I am not sure how successful I would have been driving a minivan and approaching an older gentleman asking questions about McKenzie Beach.

    Okay, one more thing. As I mentioned I live in the DC area. There was an Amusement park at Glen Echo MD (also the home of Clara Barton), and I have been told there is some historical connection to McKenzie Beach. I have no idea what this might be. Glen Echo was one of the first entertainment attractions desegregated in the Washington area in the late 50s.

    The more I research McKenzie Beach, I believe it is historically significant and is something that needs to be documented before many of the people, who have first hand knowledge, pass away.

    John C.

    18 Dec 12 at 10:45 pm

  16. "Atlantic Beach" is actually in South Carolina (though it is almost in NC..). It's a very tiny town, just a few blocks, in the North Myrtle Beach area.


    18 Dec 12 at 11:23 pm

  17. Thanks

    John C.

    19 Dec 12 at 12:20 am

  18. A former mayor of Atlantic Beach, Ms. Retha Pierce, has had an "interesting" career. And. . . she also wrote and performed this song about the president:


    19 Dec 12 at 7:45 am

  19. Ted, there is an Atlantic Beach in NC also, although I am sure the Atlantic Beach John C. referred to is the one in SC. We visited the NC one back in the 60's and when we told some friends about it got some raised eyebrows because they thought we were talking about SC.

    Mike L.

    19 Dec 12 at 8:03 pm

  20. I think this motel should not be torn down. It's part of the history of Georgetown County. I marvel at it every time I ride by it. I remember it the way it used to be.

    Ann Wilson

    13 Sep 13 at 5:24 pm

  21. I think this motel should not be torn down. It's part of the history of Georgetown County. I marvel at it every time I ride by it. I remember it the way it used to be.

    Ann Wilson

    13 Sep 13 at 5:24 pm

  22. My name is Michael Nash and I've been driving by this historical landmark for years, l love the idea that it still stands, l have learned much about the place but have never seen an early photo of it as it was back in the day, I'm sure the place was popul

    I would love to see any early photos of this beautiful historical landmark

    Michael Nash

    18 Oct 14 at 1:29 pm

  23. The train at Litchfield was part of a pavilion owned by International Paper Company that was for their employees to use. I used to ride that train as a child.

    I have been trying to track down photos of the pavilion and the train

    mark littlejohn

    5 Oct 15 at 8:35 pm

  24. Well back in SC for the Fall and once again the Magnolia Beach Club fortunately is still standing. What a wonderful landmark.

    Wouldn't it be nice if National Geographic made a documentary at Magnolia Beach Club. Has any locals ever contacted them? Imagine first hand interviews with elderly locals from the era?


    20 Oct 15 at 10:12 pm

  25. Please call me or email me, I have a few questions and i'm very interested in the possibility...
    Curtis 443.655.6599

    Curtis P

    31 May 17 at 11:57 pm

  26. Well if everything goes right I'll be in the are August 21 for the Total eclipse and the the night before a place to secretly camp and so far this looks like a winner I'll definitely take some pics and let you know if I get freaked out and roll out of there like a bat at of hell!!!!


    28 Jul 17 at 12:40 am

  27. Been coming here for years and moved here 3 years ago. Last year at the store next to rice museum in Georgetown, I found out some details of this building, and photos and have been addicted ever since.Your photos and information have been wonderful. You mention a store to look at pictures. Where is the store?
    I'm in Murrells Inlet. Would love to stop by. How do yo get to to the marsh side. National Geographic absolutely. What a wonderful beautiful story to go along side a beautiful building. Hopefully it will remain standing but can't get our hopes up too high :( Thank you


    21 Aug 17 at 7:20 am

  28. Well, I meant the store associated with this site (or more specifically here in this case), but I don't doubt that local photographers and painters have images of the motel in some of the many galleries in the South Strand area.


    22 Aug 17 at 1:09 am

  29. This is private property owned by the descendants of the owners of the black resort. They refuse to sell the property.

    Gary J

    15 Feb 20 at 3:36 pm

  30. Very interesting . Who owns the property now ?

    Rich K

    13 Jun 20 at 11:50 am

  31. Hey, I was headed down this week to that area from charlotte. I am a history buff and photographer. Do you know if this is still there? I saw the bulldozers in one picture and wonderfing if it's been torn down. It would be great if this part of history was preserved! thanks in advance. Joanna

    joanna dehart

    25 Dec 20 at 1:56 pm

  32. The restaurant/office was torn down years ago, but the guest rooms are still there (as of a week or two ago).


    26 Dec 20 at 2:30 pm

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