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USS Harvest Moon
The Union blockade ship USS Harvest Moon was sunk in Winyah Bay during the Civil War. The vessel was serving as Adm. J.A. Dahlgren's flagship when a Confederate mine sank the paddlewheel steamer on Feb. 29, 1865.
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Robert "Mac" McAlister
McAlister is one of the volunteers who narrate the maritime history of Georgetown.
THE ECONOMIC FORTUNES OF GEORGETOWN have always been subject to a kind of tidal fluctuation. Indigo, rice, lumber, tourism—each cash crop and industry has risen and fallen through wartime and peacetime, through fiscal boom and bust.
But for every setback, Georgetown finds a way to build itself back up, a resiliency made possible by the fact that it is a port city situated on the Winyah Bay, between the Atlantic Ocean and the many rivers that lead into the state’s interior.
In “1905: Georgetown’s Golden Year,” the lead exhibit at the South Carolina Maritime Museum, visitors can relive the boom times created during the port’s busiest year on record.
Dec. 19, 1905, marked the 100th anniversary of the town’s incorporation, and with business at an all-time high, Georgetown residents threw themselves a glorious Centennial Celebration. Mayor William Doyle Morgan acted as master of ceremonies for a boat parade on the Sampit River that included yachts, lumber ships and the monitors USS Nevada and USS Arkansas. The waterfront festivities were followed by an equally festive land parade down Front Street in the heart of downtown.
The Golden Year exhibit features 35 enlarged black-and-white photos (many taken during the celebration) newspaper clips and other artifacts that serve as a snapshot of the moment when “the city on the Sampit” was flush with money and optimism, says museum director Susan Sanders.
“It captures the whole festive, explosive energy that was in this area in 1905, which was the pinnacle year for the lumber industry era,” she says.
On display through April, the Golden Year exhibit is the second major display created by the nonprofit museum since the doors opened to the public in February 2012. The facility is operated by the Harbor Historical Association, the group best known for sponsoring the annual Wooden Boat Show—a gathering of wooden-boat enthusiasts who congregate every year in Georgetown for one weekend in October to celebrate all things nautical.
Like the festival itself, the museum relies on a cadre of engaged volunteers. Visitors to the museum can get a narrated tour from local experts like Robert “Mac” McAlister, who has authored several books on Georgetown’s maritime history. Guests can also lead themselves through the museum’s collection: framed maps, intricate models of famous Georgetown ships and a rare piece of oak framing salvaged from a wooden sailing ship.
The museum currently occupies a small space on Front Street, but the association’s long-term plans call for expansion as they establish 12 to 15 permanent exhibits to tell even more of the city’s maritime history. Work is already under way on an exhibit covering the history of the Henrietta, the largest wooden sailing ship built in South Carolina. Constructed on the Sampit River and launched in 1875, the ship sailed the world transporting grain and material before sinking in a Typhoon off Japan 15 years later.
“It’s real important for people to understand that the community is really supporting this whole effort,” Sanders says. “This whole museum is the blood, sweat, and tears of a lot of volunteers and community members who want to tell the story.”
The South Carolina Maritime Museum is located at 729 Front St on the Georgetown Harborwalk.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Admission: Free, though donations are welcome.
Details: (843) 520-0111 or visit scmaritimemuseum.org. The 2013 Wooden Boat Show is scheduled for Oct. 19.