Monday, August 4, 2014

Little River SC - river, history and restaurant

     Welcome to Little River South Carolina.  Although pirates were known to use this area to hide in the early 1700's and some permanent settlement existed in the late 1600's, the current settlement really didn't get its hold until the 1730's - around the time that the line dividing North and South Carolina was first established.  This river opening was always known as treacherous given the flow of water that comes with the tide change and the narrow neck that accesses it.  The town itself sits in the top center of the photograph - about three miles upstream from the Atlantic.

       The first proposal was to build jetties was at a cost of one million dollars in the 1940's, but the dispute on the border delayed the construction.  The middle of the inlet had always been considered the border, leaving each jetty in a different state.  Eventually a compromise was reached by drawing a straight line out from the river, and thus the entire mouth became South Carolina.  Work proceeded in 1983 at a cost of $25 million dollars.

     A lot of water moves through these jetties, but without them the currents are practically non-navigable for all but the smallest boats.  Further complicating the issue was the constant movement of the sand bars - sometimes a number of feet every day.  

But today large boats can safely move in and out of the river.  Looking back at the inlet, you can see Bird Island North Carolina on the left  but the tip of the island is now South Carolina.  At the right side of the photo a squadron of pelicans relaxes on the tip of Waties Island SC.  

      Our captain for the trip into Little River is Dick Chesney, operating a 65' long and 20' wide 141 passenger boat.  

Captain Dick Chesney

     Pictured below is the sister boat to the one we are on.  The boats take you out from Little River, through the inlet and well out into the ocean for an hour and a half long dolphin watching trip.  No dolphin sightings and you get a rain check for a free trip.  Some folks have been heard saying they hope the boat never sights dolphin - but they abound in this water, reaching a length of 10 feet and a maximum weight of 700 pounds.

     I had a bunch more photos of the boat and the trip, but my camera is slowly dying and I lost the data on half of the shots.  Hopefully we can nurse it through until I can get another one.

    Anyway, wildlife abounds.  Osprey and Eagles wheel overhead, and plenty of dolphin hunt in pods through these waters.  The big boat is smooth and surprisingly powerful with two big Detroit 
Diesel engines.

     Soon we are past the range finding markers and into the intra-coastal waterway.  This waterway has been a constant companion on our trip so far, and will continue to be for quite some time as it runs from Maine to the Florida Keys.

     Soon we are into the smaller waterway and heading into Little River.  

     Another group with Dick's company rents jet skis at the edge of the pier.

     A number of commercial fishing boats operate out of here, as well as several deep sea fishing charter boats.

     For a little historical background on this area, I was able to get a copy of a book recently written by one Hilda Barnes, who I am told is 82 years old yet still running strong.  Thanks to her efforts for the following historical photos.

     We have now moved fully out of the range of the Rice Plantation economy.  This area got its start with fur trading and piracy, but lumber and ship stores soon became a thriving business.  Ship stores include pitch, tar, turpentine and other products extracted from sap bled from pine trees.

     Here is an old small gauge railroad car hauling the timber out to the river.

     Tobacco was a staple crop.

     And cotton also contributed to the economy.

     But always there was the sea and its bounty.  Below is an old photo of a catch brought in by seine fishing off the beach.

     Little River looks like what you would expect an old coastal river town to look like.  There are the stacks of crab traps with their colorful marker buoys.


     But the place to visit is Captain Juels Hurricane Restaurant.  Continuously operated for 70 years, it is definitely the oldest restaurant in the northern half of the state - perhaps those of you following from Charleston, Beaufort, Hilton Head and other areas can let me know if you know of one open longer.

     And in 70 years it is only on its second owner.  Joe Robertson bought this place forty years ago.  Below he is shown with an old photo of the place.

Joe Robertson

     The place has been expanded a good bit since those days, and Joe remains a hands-on owner, spending most of his days up front greeting customers.  

Deanna Robertson

    Deanna Robertson, Joe's wife, is a driving force here.  She is pictured with her theft-proof pens.  She has won various first place prizes in large coastal competitions for the deserts she bakes for the restaurant.  A large cooler up front displays ten or twelve of her creations at any given time.  Besides the desserts, she runs the bar during the day and makes upwards of 300 frozen drinks a day.

     The dining room directly overlooks where the commercial fishermen come in, and the seafood here literally was swimming yesterday.  

     Along the way, Joe and Deanna started a collection of beer tap handles.  Customers from all over the world have brought them unique taps, and their collection, displayed on ledges throughout the restaurant, now tops 700 individual pieces.

     Here is another one a customer brought just yesterday.  Booze names sure are getting unique these days..

     The Robertson's have also won culinary prizes for some of their entrees and just completed a remodeling job that allowed the installation of a sushi bar.  It is a must visit, and if you do be sure to go during the day, sit at the bar and chat with Deanna.  She is a blast to talk to.

     But there is one aspect of the waterfront that feels sorely out of place.  Two gambling boats operate out of here.   The idea is that they take a load of a couple hundred passengers out into international waters to get by the gambling laws.

     Locals voted to allow the boats in fifteen years ago, on the promise that there would be a huge influx of new business.  After all, a few hundred people a day would be shopping in the stores and eating at the local restaurants.  

     But within three months of getting the permits, the companies started serving food and drinks on the boats.  So all you end up with is a jumble of cars every evening and a mass of people hurrying out to the boats.

     I saw the doors open on this "Jacks or Better" boat, so I walked in and started shooting a few photos.  I was quickly mobbed by several swarthy fellows who were upset I was there.  I demanded an explanation for why I shouldn't be there, and they said that the boat was bankrupt and out of business.  It was getting a bit tense, so I moved on.

     But later, talking with locals I found that this "bankrupt" scheme has been repeating itself with regularity.  This company runs up a bunch of debt, bankrupts and the same characters are back running in again in no time.  There are stories of locals caught in the web who have lost houses, cars - everything.  But once something like this is in, there seems to be little chance of getting it out.

     Beyond having lost half of my photos from today, there is a lot more to Little River that is worth seeing.  I think we can look forward to meeting some more cool folks tomorrow.

     Today's parting shot was a sign up on the wall of the restaurant - 

. . . made even funnier by the fact that neither Joe nor Deanna drinks.

Happy Tuesday Everyone !!

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