The City Magazine Since 1975

The Golden Age of Folly: Reminiscing about the Edge of America in the 1940s and ’50s

The Golden Age of Folly: Reminiscing about the Edge of America in the 1940s and ’50s
June 2024

Read excerpts from Folly Beach: Glimpses of a Vanished Strand

1. Center Street leading to the beach, pier, and pavilion in the 1950s (courtesy of Bill Bryan); 2. Fourth of July revelers, 1921 (courtesy of The Charleston Museum); 3. The Folly Pier, circa 1964 (courtesy of The Charleston Museum); 4. Jimmy Creech Jr., Jimmy Creech Sr., and Eva Crawford Creech strolling on the boardwalk, circa 1954 (courtesy of Jimmy Creech); 5. The McKevlin’s Surfing Team, circa 1976 (courtesy of Tim McKevlin); 6. Morris Island lighthouse, circa 1955 (courtesy of Morris Island Coast Guard); 7. Swing ride at the amusement park in the 1960s (courtesy of The Charleston Museum); 8. A car parked on the beach gets caught in the incoming tide, circa 1950 (courtesy of The Charleston Museum); 9. Surfing pioneer Dennis “Mr. Mac” McKevlin, circa 1946 (courtesy of Tim McKevlin).

Folly Beach: for many years, to many residents of the Carolinas, the name was synonymous with fun. The whole point of going to the beach was to get away from the daily grind, to let your hair down, to escape city life.

In the 1940s and ’50s, Folly Beach was the place to go. There wasn’t any place around that looked like Folly. Other nearby islands offered innumerable attractions, but none had the feel of Folly. Who cared if the famous Folly Pier had lost most of its paint and had become weathered through years of relentless sun, surf, and storm? Who cared if the cottages were primitive to a fault with sloping floors, rickety steps, and lack of paint? What was more wonderful than to have the tide wash up to the front steps? In some cases, the tide washed right under the houses.

Bill Bryan’s Folly Beach: Glimpses of a Vanished Strand (History Press, 2005).

The general appeal of the place was felt far and wide. Forces of nature combined with a generally lax building code and even laxer enforcement with a don’t-give-a-damn attitude—to produce a what? An odd little community by the sea? A haven for the down and out? A spot for romance and fun? All of these and more. Folly was that rare sort of place one happily stumbles upon and cherishes until one day they find it no longer exists.

The Pier & Pavilion

The timeless wooden structures that became the very definition of Folly Beach

Folly’s pier was an institution—the most memorable fixture on the island. It jutted into the Atlantic at high tide. It was not as elevated as the present fishing pier, but was built a little closer to the ocean. When rough seas came along, the water was mesmerizing as the waves came roaring ashore... >>READ MORE

The Amusements

Carnival rides and roadhouses, the beach was where the fun began

Between the pavilion and the pier stood a small amusement park, about a block long. It had a sign that read: “Welcome to Folly’s Playground.” Crammed into this space were a merry-go-round, a Ferris wheel, swings, a popular ride called “the Whip,” and perhaps another ride or two. There was a small wooden refreshment stand that sold standard beach fare, including ice cream cones and sodas... >>READ MORE

The Beach

Folly’s sun, sand, and salt water have always been the major attraction

In the late 1940s and ’50s, the beach was crowded all summer long, especially on holidays. Folly used to have boxing matches (and drag races) on the front beach. A few wooden ramps led from the boardwalk to the beach. You had to balance yourself carefully in order to navigate the ramps... >>READ MORE

Center Street

The gateway to the beach, Folly’s main drag was always the center of the action

The trip to Folly from town was relatively short but seemed like an eternity. Along the causeway, small islands were scattered here and there, breaking the vast panorama of the marsh. As you crossed the last bridge, you were on Center Street, the main drag of the island. The street was several blocks long and ended abruptly—in the Atlantic Ocean! Talk about a grand vista (today this is hidden by a massive hotel)... >>READ MORE

The People

Famous and infamous, Folly has always been home to the creative and the colorful

Folly always has had a bohemian air, attracting those who advocated a laid-back lifestyle. Sullivan’s Island was too straight-laced for these carefree souls. Folly’s freewheeling ways attracted legions—it was a bastion for the nonconformists and remains so to this day... >>READ MORE

LISTEN to some of the oldies but goodies that artists such as The Drifters, The Tams, and Otis Redding played the Folly Pier and Pavilion. Golden Age of Folly Playlist


-Selected text excerpted from Bill Bryan’s Folly Beach: Glimpses of a Vanished Strand (History Press, 2005); this excerpt first appeared in our July 2007 issue.