History of Folly Beach as a Vacation Spot
Folly Beach and James Island have
rich and varied histories dating back to the 1600’s. Both played
pivotal roles during the Civil War and because of that,
sometimes the rest of the unique history of Folly Beach is
“Folly” is an Old English word meaning an area of dense foliage.
Folly Island was deeded to William Rivers in 1696. Folly Beach
is a natural barrier island that helps protect James Island from
fierce Atlantic storms. 6 miles long, this is the closest beach
to Charleston. The salt marshes of Folly Beach provide a perfect
sanctuary for the abundant marine life and coastal birds that
frequent the area.
In the 1920’s, Folly Beach became an attraction to many visitors
who were allowed back then to park their cars on the beach.
Pictures from the era show beach goers wearing bulky bathing
suits made from wool that must have been uncomfortable in the
oppressive South Carolina humidity. The 1920’s was an era of
prosperity and wealth and Folly Beach benefited from these good
times. In 1925 more than 200,000 people visited Folly to swim,
picnic and enjoy the attractions.
Although the 1930’s ushered in an era of economic depression,
the 30’s were a period of great activity and change for Folly
Beach. Many afternoon and evening concerts were held at Folly
Pier, featuring major performers of the day such as Glenn
Miller, Tommy Dorsey and the Drifters. In the early 1930’s,
unlike some of the more expensive and snobbish beaches in the
area, Folly was accepting, fun and affordable. A causeway
connecting James Island to Folly Beach was opened and developers
began selling lots. Beachfront lots sold then for what seems
today to be the amazingly low price of $2,000 per lot!
1931 was a year of spectacular improvements for Folly Beach. The
new Atlantic Pavilion, Boardwalk, Pier and Oceanfront Hotel were
built. Despite all of the improvements and development, in 1932
only 9 families lived on the island year-round. One of the
things Folly Beach is perhaps most famous for is that in 1934
composer George Gershwin stayed on Folly Beach and wrote “Porgy
& Bess”. In 1937 over 15,000 people were at Folly Pier to
witness the 4th of July celebration.
The years during World War II saw less dramatic change on Folly
as the country was preoccupied with the war. A big boost to the
accessibility to the beach happened in 1956 when the wooden
Folly River Bridge was replaced with a modern concrete bridge.
An unfortunate event happened in 1957 when the Oceanfront Hotel
and Pavilion burned. Fire has placed a major role in Folly’s
history; the Folly Pier would burn again in 1977, this time
arson was suspected.
The 1960’s are commonly referred to as the “Golden Era of Folly
Beach”. Baby boomers were flocking to the beach with small
children and movies and music of the day had many beach and
surfing themes. Folly Beach of the 60’s offered a variety of
attractions: the Pier was rebuilt again, the boardwalk was now
an impressive 1700 feet, there was an amusement park, shops,
roller skating and concession stands. Pat Thomas is widely
regarded as the first individual to introduce surfboarding to
In the late 1980’s, residents of Folly Beach made sure the beach
was accessible to the general public in keeping with its laid
back and tolerant attitude. Sullivan’s Island, the Isle of
Palms, Kiawah and Seabrook Islands all either made it difficult
or banned non-residents from their beaches. Being more user -
friendly helped Folly Beach attract not only artists, bohemians
and hippies, but also tourist families looking for a friendly
and affordable place to vacation.
On the night of September 22, 1989, Folly was devastated by
Hurricane Hugo. Hugo did far more damage than hurricanes of
previous decades. Hugo killed 26 South Carolina residents and
did nearly $6 billion in property damage. The massive hurricane
destroyed 109 houses on Folly Beach and caused extensive damage
to many others. The winds and storm surge from Hugo caused
terrible erosion on Folly Beach. In 1993 the Army Corps of
Engineers began dredging sand for beach renourishment on Folly.
With the beach being recovered, property values quickly began to
Still referred to as “The Edge of America”, Folly Beach today is
a thriving vacation destination that still maintains its casual
charm. Surfers flock to the Folly Beach Washout to enjoy some of
the finest surfing on the East Coast. The Edwin S. Taylor
Fishing Pier is one of the longest East Coast Piers. The Fishing
Pier is a great spot to stroll and relax or for catching Giant
Drum and King Mackerel.
Being in the south, food is a big attraction at Folly Beach.
Enjoy traditional Lowcountry specialties such as fresh local
shrimp & grits, hushpuppies, oyster roasts, red rice, sweet tea
and fruit cobbler. Folly Beach offers a wide variety of
restaurants from burgers & beer to fine wine and fresh seafood,
all within walking distance of the beach.
Vacation rentals on Folly Beach are quite diverse, ranging from
million dollar plus oceanfront estates to small beach bungalows.
Whatever your budget or preference, there is something for at
the "Edge of America".
PO Box 82
212 West Arctic Ave
Folly Beach, South Carolina 29439