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Pawleys Island is a town in Georgetown County, South Carolina, United States, and the Atlantic coast barrier island on which the town sits. The population was 138 at the 2000 census. The post office address also includes an unincorporated area on the mainland adjacent to the island, which includes a commercial district along the Ocean Highway (US Route 17) and a residential area between the highway and the Waccamaw River. The island is on the southern end of The Grand Strand and is one of the oldest resort areas of the US East Coast. The town of Pawleys Island, though, is only on the island. The island lies off the Waccamaw Neck, a long, narrow peninsula between the ocean and the river. The island is connected to the mainland by two bridges, the North Causeway and the South Causeway. At the southern tip of the island is a public beach access area.


The earliest known inhabitants of the area were Waccamaw and Winyah Indians. They called the area "Chicora", meaning "the land", and the term is frequently used by locals.

The breezy island quickly became a refuge from the mosquitoes that were notable during the summer. With African slaves that were brought to the area came malaria, so those of means would move to summer cottages on the island to avoid the mosquito-vectored malaria and other sicknesses. "Why should we have to suffer like the slaves?", said young Mary Alston. The town's namesake George Pawley owned the island during the colonial era, and sold portions of it to other planters who wanted to escape malaria.

In 1791, two years after he was elected president, George Washington toured the Grand Strand. He passed right down The King's Highway in the unincorporated portion off Pawleys Island to visit the Alstons, wealthy planters who owned several plantations in the area. Rice fields occupied the Waccamaw River side of the neck.

The Grand Strand began to develop into a major tourist area during the early 20th century, but Pawleys was among the last areas to be heavily developed. Cypress sided cottages on the island gave the community one of its monikers: arrogantly shabby. With the coming of Hurricane Hugo in 1989, some of these cottages were swept away and have since been replaced by more "shabbier" homes, but there is a ban on commercial or industrial buildings on the island with the exception of a '70s condominium complex and a few inns which were grandfathered in. However, some of the oldest, most classic homes have stayed, such as Beachaven (north end of the island), owned by William Brigham Sr., and the PCJ Weston House, which is now the Pelican Inn.

Pawleys Island still retains a quaintness and a relaxed pace which makes it a rare island along the U.S. east coast. The water temperature is comfortable from May to October, and there is abundant fishing, crabbing, shrimping, and birdwatching most months of the year.

The Gray Man

A local legend on the island has grown about the Gray Man. Thought to be the original owner of the Pelican Inn,the Gray Man is a friendly ghost who warns of impending hurricanes and protects the resident's houses from the storm. Serious hurricanes have struck in 1724, twice in 1752, 1822, 1911, 1954, and 1989. As recounted in an episode of the TV series Unsolved Mysteries, several different witnesses reported that they had seen the Gray Man shortly before Hurricane Hugo. Among them Jim and Clara Moore who'd been walking the beach and saw a man dressed in gray clothing vanish before them when they waved hello. The Moores realized this man must have been the Gray Man when their house, The Sea Moore, was left untouched by the storm.