Murrells Inlet was the winter retreat for Horry County rice planter Jacob Motte Alston. Alston built this weatherboarded cottage around 1850 “in order to render matters pleasanter.” Motte’s plantation, Woodbourne Plantation in nearby Winyah, was a mere two miles away. Though he built a 12-room home on the plantation property in 1849, he enjoyed staying at his cottage where he could easily travel to the fields on horseback.
With the labor of slaves – 87 recorded in 1850 – Alston became a prominent rice grower after receiving Woodbourne from his parents in 1841. Alston penned his life experiences for his grandson in a book that covered topics such as owning slaves, growing rice, and recreation. The book was published as a memoir by the University of South Carolina Press and titled Rice Planter and Sportsman.
Several other notable homes make up a compound-like setting on the original Sunnyside property. Julia Mood Peterkin, famed author of Roll, Jordan, Roll, lived in a home she named “Pretend” adjacent to Sunnyside. The home passed onto her relative, Genevieve “Sister” Chandler Peterkin, who along with William P. Baldwin, wrote the memoir “Heaven is a Beautiful Place” memorializing her memories of growing up on the property, and surrounding Murrells Inlet. Today Sunnyside is a private event rentals site popular for weddings and other social functions.
The Murder of Ruth Bigham – Sunnyside
The following story was sourced from the 2011 article “A Sunnyside Stroll Back in Time” by Denise Mullen featured in Grand Strand Magazine.
Kin to the Bigham family of the Pee Dee region, Henry Gilmore Smith, purchased Sunnyside in 1909 as his retirement home and his relatives from Marion became regular visitors. The Bighams were infamous for their cruelty and abuse of power.
Edmund Bigham was tried three times in the 1920s for the murder of his mother, brother, sister, and his sister’s two children. Smiley Bigham, Edmund’s son, was about to face trial for the alleged murder of one of the family servants. One month before the trial, Smiley’s son, Cleveland and his wife, Ruth, were visiting family at Sunnyside. While her husband was boating with his friend, William Avant, Ruth walked down to the shoreline to take her evening stroll on this particularly foggy day. Ruth, like most ladies of her social standing at the time, wore long flowing white or pastel dresses. She was to testify against Smiley at his hearing the following month. This caused friction in the family as they had severe trust issues with each other to begin with.
By the time Ruth made her way to the shoreline of the Sunnyside property, Cleveland had convinced Avant that the figure they saw in the fog was a ghost and that Avant should shoot at it, so he did. Ruth Bigham was struck with the bullet and died on the spot. Cleveland and William Avant were found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to three years in prison. Cleveland was set free on bond pending an appeal. He left the state and never served another day of his sentence.
The property is listed in the National Register as part of the Murrells Inlet Historic District:
The Murrells Inlet Historic District contains a significant concentration of buildings which visually reflect the transition of the area from adjoining estates of two nineteenth-century rice planters into a twentieth century resort community. In the mid-nineteenth century, homes were built for two prominent Georgetown County rice planters, Jacob Motte Alston and Dr. Allard Belin Flagg. After the lands began to be subdivided in the early twentieth century, a small community of summer houses developed.
Today the historic district contains two antebellum houses, which are local interpretations of the Greek Revival style, as well as a collection of early twentieth century vernacular resort buildings. Residential in character, the historic district contains approximately nineteen houses. Although they exhibit some diversity, the prevalent use of wood as a building material, the large screened porches, and the setting of moss draped trees, marshland, and piers provide a visual unity. Since most of the buildings overlook the creek and marshland to the east, and since the creek and marshland provide the essential setting, a substantial amount of this area has been included in the potential historic district.