Standing at the top of the hill at the corner of Maplewood Ave. and Monroe St., I can visualize the beach community of my youth—Myrtle Beach, now known as Walnut Beach. Gone are the many streets, homes, businesses, the amusement parks, and churches—all lost to hurricanes, the effects of WWII, and redevelopment more than 50 years ago.
The beautiful sandy beach remains and brings back happy memories. Now I see condos, apartments, a pier, and a pavilion, but in my mind I can hear the music of the merry-go-round, skating rink, calliope, and motor boats. I can also smell the scents of hamburgers, hot dogs, onions, pizza, and popcorn from the many refreshment stands and restaurants, plus the fresh salty sea air. I live up the hill in this close knit beach community.
As a child in the late 1930s, my first walk down to the beach at the start of the summer season was to Footes Ice Cream Parlor/Variety Store, located where the Rotary Pavilion now stands. I had to get my rubber bathing shoes, bathing cap, and if I was lucky, a swimming tube. The shoes never lasted the season, why we needed a bathing cap I could never understand, and who wanted the tube when it was more fun to swim under water?
The beach was covered with a variety of shells, especially my favorite yellow and orange jingle shells. I would sweep them up by the handful. Even the seaweed was fun to play with. I would pop the little “bubbles” and squirt my friends with water.
Cottages lined the shore and were built on pilings a few feet above the sand. This left a cool damp place to crawl under— which was a perfect place to sit and cool off from the hot sand and sun. Many of the houses had displays on their porches of handmade shell sculptures for sale as souvenirs of Myrtle Beach.
Low tide brought out the clam and crab diggers. Bubbles dotting the sandbars showed where to dig and the clammers’ buckets were filled quickly. Fishing was also a popular activity. There were two boats and bait shops: Mickey’s and Williams’. Both rented rowboats for fishing in Long Island Sound or just for pleasure rowing around Charles Island. Williams’ had an outboard motorboat used for towing the fishermen a mile or more from shore. After enough fishing for the day, the fishermen placed an oar in the air—this signaled the towboat to return and bring them back to shore. Many other fishing boats could be seen off in the distance.
In the mid 1940s and 1950s, my frequent summer evening activity was to walk down the hill to join friends. Summer brought to life all the stands: food, games of chance, and the Walnut Beach Amusement Park. One of our stops would be the penny arcade. We had to make certain that the laughing Gypsy fortune telling lady in a large glass case was still there. Boys crowded around the pinball machines. In back of the stands one could hear the noises from the bowling alley.
It was usually the tourists who participated in the many games of chance at the stands. I can recall the clack-clack sound of the large spinning wheel. Other games included throwing darts at balloons, shooting moving ducks, and ring-toss. Prizes were of stuffed animals, Depression glass dishes, cigarettes, and even food were lined up along shelves, enticing people to play.
The Walnut Beach Amusement Park was neither large nor enclosed like the parks of today. We could stroll everywhere and pay for the rides of our choice; the rides and concession stands were usually privately owned. My favorites were the merry-go-round and the bumper cars. On the merry-go-round, I would try to reach for the brass ring; this entitled you to a free ride! I never succeeded.
Other rides included the Greyhound Roller Coaster, Ferris Wwheel, Dodge-em Cars, Twister, and several kiddie rides. In the upper park area there was the popular Wonderland Roller Skating Rink.
We were also fortunate to have two movie theaters, one at the corner of Broadway and Naugatuck Ave. and the other at Colonial and the Tower, now St. Gabriel Church Hall. All the major movies of the day were shown along with newsreel, cartoon, and previews of coming attractions. For a little more than a dime, this was good entertainment.
To me, the beach was always there with all it had to offer. I never considered it a vacation destination, but when relatives visited throughout the summer to go to Myrtle Beach, they were arriving from the Bronx and towns in northern Connecticut, filling my home with fun. The whole beach area offered the numerous tourists rooms and cottages to rent, and even several hotels were available here. The Sound View Hotel and its Emerald Room was popular for the adult entertainment. Many of the same families came year after year.
Visitors arrived with their small Brownie Box cameras to record their special time at the beach. This was no problem since the Photo Mart had a great reputation of developing film. It took a few days to get your prints, but it was worth the wait. I still have small black and white photos taken 70 years ago, as good as new. The Photo Mart also offered the first mail-order service.
One of my favorite stands was Penuchies with the delicious hamburgers. The cooking smells drew you to the place. Merwin’s Frozen Custard stand was often a must-stop after the long walk along East Broadway, but Kohr Brothers was the best. I can still taste the strawberry frozen custard. Many Sunday afternoons my mother would send me down the hill on my bike to purchase a quart of this special treat. It was a challenge to bike all the way home before it melted to enjoy while relaxing under our apple trees.
How many people can claim that they had an airplane ride from a Milford Beach Airfield? In the late 1940s, a friend and I rode our bikes along East Broadway to the airfield, located at what is now Silver Sands State Park. My friend’s father had a pilot’s license and offered to take us for a plane ride. With little hesitation, we agreed. What a thrill flying along the beautiful shoreline, over the park and even my home. Of course, when my mother heard about my adventure, she was horrified. For me, it was awesome!
Today I still enjoy my beach—a great place to stroll through the sand, find an occasional jingle shell, walk the boardwalk, and stand on the pier to look out over the water. I read the names of people and places on the bricks around the memorial monument and reminisce, or relax on a bench to enjoy a treat from Walnut Beach Creamery.