Brookgreen Gardens Area
Make a pilgrimage to the shrine of Archer Milton Huntington and Anna Hyatt Huntington and visit the crowning achievement of their distinctive and privileged lives. The shrine is Atalaya, their Moorish castle on the beach, and the crowning achievement is Brookgreen Gardens, America’s first and largest outdoor sculpture collection, right across the highway. Both are near Murrells Inlet south of Myrtle Beach.
You can’t miss the turn from US Highway 17. Anna Hyatt Huntington’s larger-than-life Fighting Stallions stands high above the entrance to Brookgreen Gardens, elevated to a height that emphasizes their majesty. The horses are cast in aluminum because Anna felt that a dull finish best revealed every leg, mane, tail, and head, as well as the raw and furious nature of the conflict. Bronze is typically the sculptor’s metal of choice but she felt a shiny surface tends to obscure the shape and form of the work, that a glossy sheen reflects a distraction of light. Unlike bronze, aluminum does not oxidize over time and does not require annual or more frequent waxings.
So that’s the teaser to start your visit at Brookgreen Gardens, and beyond these horses lies a paradise of youths and maidens, gods, and goddesses, mythological creatures of fur and feather. Since opening in 1931 the garden has grown to a 350-acre public sculpture display set within a 9,000-acre nature preserve. The collection has grown to more than 1,400 sculptures, representing the works of more than 350 artists, and the garden is sectioned off into distinctive “chambers,” each one of them a slice of Mount Olympus or a peek into the Garden of Eden.
Huntington Beach State Park
Go through the gate across the street from the horses to see at another portion of the Huntington legacy. The couple leased Huntington Beach State Park to South Carolina, a 2,500-acre preserve that the state has developed with campsites at the southern end (water, electrical hookups, tables, grills, and restrooms), an ocean beach with a swimming area, a playground with carpet golf, a trading post, a picnic area with shelters, a nature trail and daily nature programs such as birdwatching outings.
This is a prime spot for tents, pop-ups, and RVs but it fills up fast during the summer beach season. Check on availability by calling (803) 237-4440.
The shady drive into the park is a leafy tunnel through a dense grove of gnarled oak trees that drip with gray moss. The road leads to a marshland area where you will likely see alligators, deer and shorebirds. Just around the next bend is a massive stone castle, the Huntingtons’ grand oceanfront residence.
The name is Spanish for watchtower, and its soaring height is suitable for a medieval fiefdom defending its walls against marauding tribes. Archer Huntington designed it in the Moorish style. The living quarters consist of 30 rooms, with areas for servants, cooks, laundresses, housekeepers, and secretaries. One whole room is dedicated to oyster shucking, and of course, Anna’s sculpture studio is stunning, its 25-foot skylight in the south wing providing a heavenly stream of natural light.
The mansion has a grand total of 25 fireplaces, quite a lot of heating power in a region that rarely sees low temperatures, and the exquisite black wrought-iron grillwork on every window was made by Tito and Rogers of Miami. Two stairways lead from the courtyard to the roof with a view of the sea, which might shed some perspective on the “watchtower” reference.
Stables, dog kennels, and bear cages are on the grounds, and a courtyard has 50 palm trees. The Huntingtons imported deerhounds from Scotland and provided them with their own elaborate five-room house that accommodated about two dozen of them. The couple raced these dogs on the beach, and Anna used them as models for her sculpture Deerhounds Playing on exhibit in the sculpture garden.
All the maids were also from Scotland, and they wore black uniforms with white caps and aprons. They changed all linens on all beds every day, regardless of whether or not the beds had been slept in.
The attractions surrounding Brookgreen Gardens are as popular as the gardens themselves, and visitors can expect to spend a full day exploring the acres of attractions, wandering through the adjacent state park, and taking in the spectacular mansion that the Huntingtons considered their home away from home.