Step inside one of Horry County’s best-kept secrets
Nestled between the bustle of U.S. 17 and the serenity of the Intracoastal Waterway sits Vereen Memorial Historical Gardens, 114 acres of hidden history and natural beauty. The property remains within the vision of its benefactor, Jackson Hiram Vereen, who donated the Little River property in 1973 for the purpose of developing a historical museum, formal gardens, walking trails and picnic areas while maintaining the natural features of the land.
As you pass under the wrought iron entrance bearing the gardens’ crest, a winding road canopied by tree limbs and lined with azaleas bisects the grounds and takes you directly to the marsh. But that drive is to be saved for a later time.
The first step onto the nature trail from the welcome center immediately transports the visitor into another place and time. Looking to the north and south at the gate of the blue trail, you can make out the crude outline of the original Kings Highway, which was part of the Atlantic Coastal Transportation System from the time of the earliest settlements in the American colonies. It remains one of the few surviving stretches of Kings Highway to retain its original unpaved appearance.
Only 50 feet into the woods the sound of U.S. 17 traffic is replaced by the silence of the forest. Stop for a moment and observe the sights and sounds that surround you. The trail is mostly soft sand, which is ideal for identifying the numerous animal tracks that outnumber human footprints. Foxes, raccoons, squirrels and deer are just some of the creatures you may encounter.
A scan of the forest will reveal oak, cedar, pine, holly, magnolia, hickory, buckeye and bay trees, just to name a few. The smell of honeysuckle and jasmine mingle with the salt air coming from the marsh, creating a soothing sensory potion. Farther down the trail, an owl hoots while a broadhead skink darts up the side of a tree. Looking closely at the tree, you can see the handiwork of a redheaded woodpecker on display with hundreds of tiny holes punching a design into the bark.
Even though the inclines are gentle, there are wooden benches along the trails to rest or just sit and take in the natural beauty. There are also informational markers scattered throughout the gardens to inform and enlighten. Wild flowers and sectional gardens are abundant.
Vereen Family Cemetery
Midway into your walk you will come across a clearing in the woods. Ahead is a white marble angel keeping watch over the Vereen family cemetery. The Vereen family tree is documented on a stone monument and markers are aligned around its rectangular base. The earliest marker is for William Vereen Sr., 1729–1789, laid to rest with his wife, Elizabeth. We learn from the inscription that Mr. Vereen furnished supplies and aid to General Francis Marion at the Big Landing Island, though his main duty was making salt for the Revolutionary forces.
In 2000, Horry County Council approved 1,500 feet of boardwalk for installation in the marsh at Vereen Memorial Historical Gardens. This affords easy access to the barrier islands and the extraordinary shell bank that lines the Intracoastal Waterway.
Standing perfectly still on the boardwalk, you will observe the fiddler crabs as they come out of their holes and begin their dance along the soft mud surface. This crab’s name comes from the extra-large claw it has, which looks like a fiddle perched on its shell.
The boardwalk also offers the best view of the many birds that call the gardens their home. Great Blue Herons are in abundance and can be seen standing as still as statues as they await an unsuspecting mud minnow or silverside swimming in the creek channels. Another member of the heron family, sporting brilliant white feathers, is the Great Egret. These birds are also skilled fishermen who take their meals in the gardens’ marshes. The Brown Pelican is easily recognizable by his large pouch and six-foot wingspan. Another local fish eater is the Double Crested Cormorant, known for his acrobatic dives into the water and his bright orange bill.
As for the saltwater vegetation, the marsh is primarily a combination of Smooth Cord Grass, a light green smooth, thin grass, and Salt Meadow Cord Grass, which is a darker green and grows in thick mats with deep purple flowers on its stalks. Attaching themselves to these stalks are the Periwinkle Snail and the Coffee Bean Snail, both native to the Grand Strand. If you see some snails on the ground, they didn’t just lose their grip on the stalks. They are another variety, the Eastern Mud Snail, and are quite happy burrowing in the soft pluff mud.
Weddings are held on a regular basis, and when you see the platform where ceremonies take place you will realize why. The waterway, marsh and all of the beauty that nature has to offer serves as the backdrop for the bride and groom to celebrate their special day. The visitor center has a full kitchen and room for the reception.
At the end of the boardwalk is the fishing pier, from which you can also do some great sightseeing. Locals come to try and catch their dinner or just sit on one of the benches and watch for Bottlenose Dolphins to swim by. Don’t forget to wave to the charter boat captains as they return to the marinas after a hard day of fishing.
The C.B. Berry Community Center was designed for educating the public by hosting historical exhibits with facilities for banquets or conferences. Trail maps are available for the gardens, as well as maps and historical exhibits for Little River and Horry County.
Brent Taylor, director of Horry County Parks and Recreation, says that future plans for the tract include an amphitheatre blended into the wooded setting, perfect for summer evening concerts. The gardens are maintained by county employees who rely heavily on volunteers. The Vereen Memorial Historical Gardens are located just before the SC/NC border on SC 179 in Little River. Admission is free and hours are from sunrise to sunset.