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Georgetown: A City of Hard Knocks

  • Tuesday, October 8, 2013

  • Updated Wednesday, October 9, 2013 1:42 pm

By Kevin F. Langston

Georgetown was founded in 1729, becoming South Carolina's third city after Charleston and Beaufort. I came along 250 years later, but I hardly rate a footnote in the city's rich past. Some historians trace Georgetown's history as far back as 1526 — 144 years before the English settled Charles Towne — but we're perfectly content with our bronze medal.

You might think Georgetown suffers from an inferiority complex, what with it being set between Charleston and Myrtle Beach on U.S. Highway 17, but I've always thought our small city was an ideal blend of the two tourism mainstays.

I might not live in Georgetown anymore, but it'll always be my home. And my home has had a tough sled of late. In 2011, sinkholes began cropping up in the downtown area, causing millions of dollars in damages. Downtown flooding has also been a pesky problem.

But the biggest blow to Georgetown since Hurricane Hugo was last week's fire [Sept. 25, 2013] that ripped through Front Street and destroyed several historical buildings and displaced residents and popular storefronts.

Front Street, with its eclectic charm, shopping, and harbor views, is the epitome of Georgetown. And the community seems determined to persevere. A fire relief fund has been established, and the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce hosted an after hours event recently at Front Street's Francis Marion Park to raise additional funds for the recovery. The 24th annual Wooden Boat Show remains on schedule, and the Bridge to Bridge 5K run will also go on as planned.

I love that Georgetown has its own, unique rhythm that sets it apart from its Charleston and Myrtle Beach. And I love that the area's history can be characterized by its resiliency.

Georgetown is located on Winyah Bay at the confluence of the Pee Dee, Waccamaw, Sampit and Black rivers. Its geography was conducive to the early cultivation of indigo and rice, which helped establish the area as one of the wealthiest in early America. By 1840, Georgetown's rice plantations were producing nearly half of the country's rice crop, and its port was the largest exporter of rice in the world.

Today, Georgetown is South Carolina's second largest seaport. The port was crucial in supplying General Nathanael Green's army during the American Revolution, and Francis Marion conducted many of his covert military maneuvers in the area.

In the years after Reconstruction, Georgetown took equal advantage of the area's dense woodlands when it shifted away from rice planting toward lumber harvesting. Georgetown was home to the largest lumber mill on the East Coast by the turn of the 20th century, but it was unable to ride out the Great Depression. International Paper came to Georgetown in 1936 and by 1944 its mill was the largest in the world. A steel mill located here in 1969, and Santee Cooper added the first of four units to the 1130-MW Winyah Generating Station in 1975.

Georgetown is also unique in that it has a municipal utility that has served the city since 1921. It's one of two municipal utilities that Santee Cooper serves. I quite appreciate how the city blends its tourist appeal with industry. By celebrating our natural beauty and rich heritage alongside our industrious ingenuity and work ethic, Georgetown and its people are an apt snapshot of our splendid country.

So rest assured: Georgetown and Front Street remain open for business, and they could certainly use some of yours these days. As the wounds from [the recent] fire heal, my hometown might look a little different. But the same resolve and charm that has carried Georgetown since 1729 will carry it further.

 
Kevin Langston is a native of Georgetown. He lives in Summerville and has worked in corporate communications at Santee Cooper for seven years. Reprinted by permission from:
www.santeecooper.com/blog
 
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