Refuge History


  • The Natives and Early Colonists

    Indian Small


    Waccamaw NWR has a rich history. The land within the acquisition boundary has been inhabited by humans from prehistoric periods through modern history. Early Native Americans lived off the land and it's wildlife for hundreds of years prior to the arrival of European Colonists who settled the area. After the colonization of South Carolina, Native Americans traded by-products derived from these lands to European settlers. Trading posts were established to facilitate trade including one that was located near the site of the new Environmental Education Center. Other historic uses of the lands that now make up the Refuge include rice culture, turpentine production, logging operations, and several ferry crossings for transportation.

    Colonial records, travelers' accounts, and colonists' correspondence provide detailed accounts of the area's Indian tribes. These tribes included the Seewees, the Santees, the Sampits, the Winyahs, the Pee Dees, and the Waccamaws. As early as 1683 in the Winyah Bay area, British colonists established trade relations with these groups.

    Indian groups were depleted by European-introduced diseases & liquor as well as intertribal & colonial conflicts. By 1715, the Waccamaws consisted of 610 individuals dispersed in 6 villages on Waccamaw Neck and the Winyahs were reduced to one village of 106 individuals. In 1720, the Yemassee War ended both the Indian threat and trade in the area. Colonists turned to the preparation of naval stores as their main economic pursuit. 

  • The Rice Plantation Era...

    Rice Cultivation

    Between 1700 - 1720, the English established settlements at Georgetown, on the Winyah Bay, and up the Black, Pee Dee and Waccamaw watersheds. By 1705, large scale rice cultivation formed the foundation of the Carolina lowland economy.

    Rice agricultural practices transformed the landscape with the wide scale clearing of forested wetlands and construction of dike sand tidal gates. By 1850, a number of plantations existed along the Waccamaw, Pee Dee, and Black Rivers.

    Between 1792 - 1880s, several families operated ten rice plantations on Sandy Island. The plantations were Oak Hampton, Ruinville, Brickville, Mount Arena, Sandy Knowe, Oak Lawn, Oatland, Holly Hill, Pipe Down, and Hassell Hill.

  • The Civil War...

    Battle on Fort Sumter

    Many plantation owners fled their estates during the Civil War. When they returned to their lands in 1865 - 66, they were forced to hire the newly-freed slaves to work the rice fields. They worked the rice fields under contract, the provisions of which gave them wages and a portion of the harvest. Those living on Sandy Island formed communities at Mount Arena, Brickville, Ruinville, and Pipe Down. Their decendants still inhabit the island today. 


    Between 1893 - 1911, a string of hurricanes devastated the area's already floundering rice economy. These storms destroyed much of the infrastructure of the rice fields as well as the rice crop nearly ready for harvest. On Sandy Island, rice continued to be of major economic importance until the mid 1940's. By the early 20th century, many of the area's rice plantations had fallen into disrepair. A number of these estates were bought by wealthy individuals primarily for waterfowl hunting and other sporting purposes. Today many of these plantations have been permanently preserved through voluntary conservation easements with organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, & the Low Country Open Land Trust.


  • Waccamaw NWR is established...

    Visitors Center Small

    In 1994, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service was requested to study the feasibility of establishing a new national wildlife refuge to further protect lands that were formerly rice plantations. In 1997, Waccamaw NWR was established and its acquisition boundary encompasses 54,000 acres within Georgetown, Horry, & Marion counties including portions of the Great & Little Pee Dee Rivers & the Waccamaw River. These river systems and associated wetlands comprise a large portion of the Winyah Bay drainage basin and are an important component of the Winyah Bay ecosystem. 


    Waccamaw NWR was established to protect a biologically diverse system of wetland and upland habitats for the benefit of numerous plants and animals that form an integral part of the ecological functions and productivity of the Winyah Bay Focus Area. As of 2007, Waccamaw NWR had acquired 97 tracts, comprising a total of 10,590 acres. Currently, the Refuge manages approximately 24,000 acres including long-term leases and cooperatives. This management includes many types of habitat including flooded alluvial bottomlands, upland longleaf pine forests, & remnant plantation tidal rice fields. 


    Waccamaw NWR is also managed to provide public access to traditional, wildlife-dependant outdoor recreational activities. Objectives are achieved using habitat managment tools that include timber management, water management, prescribed burning, removal of noxious non-native species, protected sanctuary, partnerships, and environmental education & interpretation.