It All Started With A Hammock

A HISTORY OF THE HAMMOCK SHOPS

By Lee Gordon Brockington

“What Depression? Are we having a new Depression?” were the questions from a resident of the Waccamaw Neck in 1930. The South was gripped in poverty between the American Civil War and World War II. The decline in rice production in Georgetown County and the geographic isolation of the area hit families hard.

Photograph by Ginny Horton

By 1824, Philip “Lachicotte” was a rice mill employee in Charleston, and by 1857, he had accepted a job at Brookgreen Plantation on the Waccamaw River, owned by the Ward family.

Pawleys Island native Arthur Herbert “Doc” Lachicotte Jr. recounts, “We were poor before the Depression and we were all poor together, black and white.” In the 1930s, 150 blacks and 150 whites struggled to make a living and hold onto their land, though all agreed no one would starve to death unless they were lazy. The bounty of the river, marsh and sea provided plenty to eat and enough seafood with which to barter.

The Lachicotte family members were entrepreneurs and began to devise ways to earn cash. By far, Doc Lachicotte’s parents came up with one of the most successful and long-lasting products, the Pawleys Island Rope Hammock.

For more than 1,000 years, hammocks were known and used in Central and South America. Mayans used tree bark and plant fibers to create a bed suspended between two trees. Columbus saw these hammocks in the Bahamas and adapted them, carrying the idea back to Spain. By 1570, Spaniards noted most beds in Brazil were hammocks made of canvas, cloth and net that were hung in the house. And by 1630, engravings of Indians in rope hammocks appeared in publications. After the founding of Carolina in 1670, timber harvesting, indigo production and rice growing made the Charleston, Beaufort and Georgetown areas profitable, due in large measure to free slave labor. Plantation owners reinvested their wealth into more land, more enslaved Africans and hired white overseers and mill managers, as the success of rice here surpassed all other areas of the world except Calcutta, India.

From France to Haiti to Philadelphia came members of the French Rossignol de la Chicotte family in the 1790s. In what was then St. Domingue, a slave revolt resulted in only Madame Rossignol and her five children, without their father, escaping to find a new life in America. By 1824, Philip “Lachicotte” was a rice mill employee in Charleston, and by 1857, he had accepted a job at Brookgreen Plantation on the Waccamaw River, owned by the Ward family. Before the Civil War, Joshua John Ward (1800-1853) owned more than 1,000 enslaved Africans, and his sons continued operating their rice mills until 1865.

At the end of the war, the Lachicottes were poised to purchase land, since their money had not been invested in human property, and in 1871, Philip Lachicotte purchased nearby Waverly Plantation to begin his own career as a rice planter. He formed an agricultural cooperative and operated one of the largest and last rice mills in the area. Up to 400 workers were employed on-site, and post- Civil War diversification foretold of his family’s entrepreneurship. P.R. Lachicotte and Sons developed new milling methods, added a barrel and nail factory, a shipyard, a marine railway, a lumber mill and established Waverly Mills Post Office.

Mail and passengers traveled daily by river boat on the Waccamaw and Great Pee Dee rivers between Georgetown and Conway, making frequent stops along the way. P.R. Lachicotte’s grandson-in-law, Captain John Joshua Ward (1876-1961), was a boat captain on one such boat. In 1889, he was uncomfortable on board his boat and wanted to utilize a hammock to sleep above the boat’s floor – to catch a breeze and avoid vermin. So, he rigged a hammock with ship’s rope and wooden spreaders at the ends, each made from half a wagon wheel. The knots were tied above the spreaders, and the hammock proved to be immensely more comfortable than hammocks made of cloth or barrel staves.

Beginning in the 1890s, Captain Ward noticed an increase in river traffic related to tourism. The rise of the summer resort in America brought passengers from Georgetown and Conway to river landings like Waverly Plantation where a “hack” (taxi) could be hired. Lachicotte family members would drive horse-drawn carriages full of tourists from the river to the beachfront, where their cousins had built or bought houses used for “paying guests.”

One such inn was a house bought by P.R. Lachicotte’s son Frank. His daughters, Miss Belle and Miss Bert, operated the inn. Frank’s son Arthur Herbert “Doc” Lachicotte (1891-1968) and his wife Virginia Wilson Lachicotte (1892-1978) created a cottage industry, literally, in the yard of that 19th century beach house.

By the 1930s, the couple had taken the idea of Captain Ward, their brother-in-law, and started to make the first Pawleys Island rope hammocks, designed as souvenirs for beach-goers from near and far who frequented the inns, boarding houses and homes on the island. This joint enterprise between husband and wife was very successful. A family run store was built at the North Causeway, which, by the mid-30s, was moved to the newly established Highway 17. The federal highway brought increased traffic and economic opportunity.

In July 1935, ferry service became outdated when the first bridge to connect the Waccamaw Neck and Georgetown was opened. This assured easy access between New York and Miami, and Pawleys Island became “the mother of South Carolina beaches.”

International Paper began construction in 1936 on what would become the world’s largest paper mill, and soon filling stations, restaurants and motor courts were opening along Highway 17. Doc and Virginia decided to purchase approximately 10 acres for about $1,000 on the newly paved Ocean Highway (Highway 17). The tract, situated east of the highway, was perfect for setting up a roadside attraction.

The couple moved their hammock-making enterprise from the island to the highway in 1938, opening a 500-square-foot building called The Hammock Shop. The business flourished by adding local baskets, pottery, braided rugs and books to its inventory.

Though The Hammock Shop was one of the features that attracted tourists to Pawleys, Virginia often expressed fears that the island would become too commercialized. She loved the picturesque natural environment, the family flavor and the people. But tourists came. The first addition to the shop complex was a tea room in the early 1940s, which later be- came a print shop, selling regional art. A seasonal tourist season improved the local economy, but Pawleys remained a quiet place, with oceanfront lots selling for $1,500.

World War II brought increased military activity to the area with airfields in Georgetown and Myrtle Beach and B-25 bomber pilots training over local beaches. The next generation of Lachicottes was serving in the military. A. H. “Lil Doc” Lachicotte Jr. (born 1926) went off briefly to Clemson University. He then served in the U.S. Army Infantry and returned to Clemson in 1945 to earn a degree in horticulture, having been inspired by the gardens in Japan.

When he joined his parents’ business at Pawleys, he said, “I’d rather live here than anywhere else on earth.” As a child, he had heard his father called Doc and learned it was a nickname earned because his father had followed around Dr. Ward Flagg of Brookgreen. It was only natural that Doc’s son would become “Lil Doc” and, due to his height, the nickname lasted longer than expected.

Father and son disagreed in the late 40s about expanding the business. The older Doc had lived through the depression and was reluctant to build more shops. But Lil Doc knew his former Clemson classmates believed he would starve trying to make a living at the beach, and he set out to prove them wrong.

He married Martha, and together they formed a strong partnership – he liked the creative side of the business and she was good at merchandising. He added a plant nursery, yet she knew adding gifts would be more important. In 1957, their buying trips included promotion of their product, the Original Pawleys Island Rope Hammock, and the marketing was successful.

While on their trips, they saw shopping centers designed as villages and decided to create a plantation village at the Highway 17 property. To add to the existing buildings, they moved the former school house his father had attended at Waverly Plantation to the site. The old plantation post office at Waverly that had been abandoned for mailboxes inside Lachicotte’s Store also became part of the village, followed by other historic-looking buildings that were built to be different shops. Old wood, salvaged brick, towering pines and live oaks were surrounded by azaleas and camellias from the nursery.

Advertising on a national basis, an ad in The New Yorker magazine and their participation in the New York Flower Show all contributed to major growth over the next decade. A store a year was added, each one reflecting local history and simple architecture. High-quality gifts, each one unique, were screened by Martha to avoid duplication, not only in The Hammock Shops but with other stores along the South Carolina coast.

In 1961, the Lachicottes modernized by installing a telephone. Few phones existed in the area, and few people wanted much outside interference. But within the decade, they acquired more land along the southern boundary of The Hammock Shops to build more shops and establish a real estate office. Highway 17 was widened to four lanes in 1966, and tourism took off.

In 1969, Ken and Ginnie Thompson retired to Pawleys Island, and Ginnie brought her love of cross-stitch needlework with her. Lil Doc asked her to teach a course at The Hammock Shops on the old Danish craft, and The Counting House soon featured Ginnie’s books, designs and supplies. Ginnie Thompson Originals helped put The Hammock Shops on the map for an entirely new clientele. Twelve buildings grew to 21 in the 70s and 80s, and the mystique continued.

Change is inevitable. “Doc,” as he was known to those who’d never met his father, sold the manufacturing plant to outside investors in 1983. Today, the hammocks are produced out of state – but still in America, although 90 percent of them are shipped to Australia, Germany, France, England and even the Pacific Islands.

In 1989, The Hammock Shops and the entire state were hit hard by Hurricane Hugo. Rebuilding the Grand Strand meant a bigger Myrtle Beach and more competition from malls, movie theaters and larger destination shopping complexes. Doc Lachicotte sold The Hammock Shops Village but holds the honor of his family having created the nation’s first mass-produced hammock.

Many people complete their week at the beach with an outing to The Hammock Shops, remembering previous visits with parents or grandparents. This unique place has become synonymous with Pawleys Island. And it all began with a simple idea and hard work.

Lee Gordon Brockington is a senior interpreter at Hobcaw Barony and resident of Pawleys Island. She is also the author of several books, including Plantation Between the Waters: A Brief History of Hobcaw Barony.

 

2018-08-08T17:25:41+00:00

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