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The 93-year-old grandson of one of Myrtle Beach’s founding fathers lives life to its fullest
He’s led a fairy tale life of wealth and privilege, but prefers tending to cattle on his farm in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. At 93 years of age, he still travels the world, collects fine art, writes music, plays piano, adores opera and savors fine scotch, but his favorite meal is simply a tomato and cucumber salad, fresh from the garden. Harold “Harry” Hartshorne, Jr. may have gone to preparatory school with budding politicos like the late president John F. Kennedy, held a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and then spent World War II using his linguistic ability to teach French to American pilots running sorties over Europe, yet, he has always sought communion with the countryside.
Harry is adamant that “life revolves around music” and that the harmony and melodies of our days are never clearer or in as perfect pitch as when listening to the songs of nature.
“A definitive point in my life, when I believe I became a man, was in 1937,” says Harry. “I went on a school trip rafting the Colorado River. We had to horseback in and out and the water could be furious. I realized then how beautiful and how dangerous nature is. That trip taught me maturity in so many ways.”
And Harry would forever be a fan of the power and beauty of the Grand Strand shoreline, from his first childhood dip into the briny waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
His ties to the Grand Strand stretch back to the turn of the century and run through his grandfather, Simeon B. Chapin, who brought young Harry with him on business trips to the “beachfront wilderness” that Chapin would help transform into the resort destination of Myrtle Beach.
Born into the affluent Gilded Age, Harry was only two when his mother died in childbirth and his guardianship was turned over to his maternal grandparents, Simeon B. and Marietta Chapin, until his father remarried years later. Under his grandparents’ tutelage, Harry attended the best of schools, went on European vacations touring architecture and museums and Marietta Chapin introduced him to the world of opera when he was 18 with a pair of tickets to Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.
Harry’s grandfather was a Chicago-based stockbroker with a Midas touch, in the middle of the modern industrial economy gaining steam out of post-Civil War United States, and at the same time, giving rise to American philanthropy.
With extensive land holdings in and the development of Lake Geneva and Lake Como in Wisconsin, Chapin began investing where he loved to play golf in Pinehurst, North Carolina. A Pinehurst Realtor knew the Burroughs & Collins Company of Conway was looking for investors and assured Chapin that his passion for hunting would also be met by the fresh water ponds and ducks in the area. Introductions were made between Chapin and Frank and Don Burroughs and all parties shared great rapport and mutual respect.
“That was around 1911. My grandfather was impressed with all the turpentine, timber and cotton but the appraiser’s report called the ‘nine miles of virgin beachfront worthless,’” Harry chuckles. “My grandfather could see the potential here but he couldn’t get the wives of any of his managers to leave their city brownstones and move here to watch over his interests. He backed out of the deal and then realized that he trusted the Burroughs brothers so much he would let them run the whole operation, even on his behalf.”
By 1936, Chapin was ready to invest in his own piece of “worthless beachfront” and build a permanent home in Myrtle Beach. A banker friend of his, Mr. Johnson, confided to Chapin that he was worried about his son Philip who graduated from Harvard and was traveling in Germany, fascinated with the country’s “new architecture.” Mr. Johnson realized the dangers of the Nazi threat and political unrest, but needed a reason to get Philip back to the U.S. and have him gainfully employed.
“My grandfather told Mr. Johnson to bring his son back home and he could design ‘Youpon Dunes’ for him at the beach,” recalls Harry, his head leaning on one hand. “Of course Philip became one of the most celebrated architects of his time and that boxy house at 32nd Avenue was a warm-up for him.” There is also emerging evidence that another renowned architect was involved with the project, none other than Jan Ruhtenberg.
The Chapin and Burroughs bond would forever change the course of the Grand Strand. The new partnership was known as Myrtle Beach Farms Company, dealing in agriculture and timber production, but making its main thrust all about turning Myrtle Beach into a major seaside resort. On the philanthropic side, the company donated 312 acres to establish Myrtle Beach State Park, another 10 miles of oceanfront property strictly for public access and gave more land to area churches, one of the earliest being First United Methodist Church that still stands on the corner of Ninth Avenue North and Kings Highway.
From timber, turpentine, steamboats and trains, Myrtle Beach Farms would evolve into the family-owned Burroughs & Chapin Company of today, chiefly developing property and providing amusement and sports venues—a visionary morph from carting lumber to creating Broadway At The Beach.
Harry would learn valuable lessons from his grandfather, respect for the land and all people regardless of their station in life, involvement in community, and to this day, he carries on the Chapin tradition of writing personal thank-you notes. Harry served on the Board of Directors of Myrtle Beach Farms and then Burroughs & Chapin Company from 1990 to 2005, attending almost all the meetings even when his status changed to Director Emeritus.
He also sat on his grandfather’s Chapin Foundation board from 1950 to 2009. Chapin always believed that he had to share the wealth if he were to have any right to it. After years of affiliation with a number of charitable causes, he established four foundations in 1943 to serve the areas that had served him so well: Chicago, Lake Geneva, Pinehurst and Myrtle Beach. The Chapin Foundation has donated more than $20 million to churches, non-profit hospitals, special charities, public libraries and the YMCA in the Myrtle Beach area alone.
When WWII ended, Harry struggled with what would be his next step in civilian life, “I never wanted to go back to New York and the stock exchange. It wasn’t me. I knew then that my heart belonged to the country, not the city. My grandfather and I were discussing all my options that summer of 1944 and in five little words, he changed my life. He said, ‘What’s the matter with Wisconsin?’ I loved it! That’s what I wanted to hear. That’s where I wanted to be.”
His farming career took flight with two thousand baby chicks.
“A cousin of mine invited me to a cocktail party and in the middle of the party, she raised up my arm and announced: ‘This man sells the freshest eggs in Wisconsin!’ Well, I got all these orders for my eggs and started shipping them all over the country by railway. That was the most profitable party I’ve ever been to,” Harry smiles.
A perfect day in Harry’s world today starts with a before-breakfast swim in the lake. He’ll spend most of his time traversing the rolling farmland in his WWII army jeep and perhaps mend a break in the miles of “brown fencing with creamy acorn finials.” Before dinner, he’ll sip Lagavulin while playing Gershwin, Porter and Kern tunes on the piano and if the spirit moves him, he’s been known to take a red-eye flight to a metropolitan opera house.
Still dapper in his straw bowler with fine-boned features and a 20-year-old twinkle in his eye, he has seen and embraced the world and all its changes, for more than nine decades.
A true gentleman who chooses his words carefully, Harry is not the type to readily proffer an opinion, except perhaps, when it comes to the state of current fashion. Even though his artistic eye can appreciate the finer points of a well-inked tattoo sleeve, Harry is firm that “turning a cap backwards on your head is no style at all.”