The History of the Hammock Shops /The Legacy of the Lachicottes

Article Courtesy Of Island Magazine - Lee Gordon Brockington

What Depression? Are we having a new Depression?” was the question from a resident of the Waccamaw Neck in 1930. The South was gripped in poverty between the American Civil War and World War II. The decline in rice production in Georgetown County and the geographic isolation of the area hit families hard.

Pawleys Island native Arthur Herbert “Doc” Lachicotte, Jr. recounts, “We were poor before the Depression and we were all poor together, black and white.” In the 1930s, 150 blacks and 150 whites struggled to make a living and hold onto their land, though all agreed no one would starve to death unless they were lazy. The bounty of the river, marsh and sea provided plenty to eat and enough seafood with which to barter. The Lachicotte family members were entrepreneurs and began to devise ways to earn cash. By far, Doc Lachicotte’s parents came up with one of the most successful and long lasting products --- the Pawleys Island Rope Hammock --- still sold today at the Pawleys Island Hammock Shops Village.

For over 1000 years, hammocks were known and used in Central and South America. Mayans used tree bark and plant fibers to create a bed suspended between two trees. Columbus saw these hammocks in the Bahamas and adapted them for use, carrying the idea back to Spain. By 1570, Spaniards noted most beds in Brazil were hammocks made of canvas, cloth and net and hung in the house. By 1630, engravings of Indians in rope hammocks appeared in publications.

After the founding of hot and humid Carolina in 1670, timber harvesting, indigo production and rice growing made Charleston, Beaufort and Georgetown areas profitable, due in large measure to free enslaved labor. Plantation owners reinvested their wealth into more land and more African slaves and hired white overseers and mill managers as the success of rice surpassed all other areas of the world except Calcutta, India.

From France to Haiti to Philadelphia came members of the French Rossignol de la Chicotte family in the 1790s. A slave revolt, in what was then St. Domingue, resulted in only Madame Rossignol and her five children able to escape without their father to find a new life in America. By 1824, Philip “Lachicotte” was a rice mill employee in Charleston and by 1857, had accepted a job at Brookgreen Plantation on the Waccamaw River, owned by the Ward family. Before the Civil War, Joshua John Ward (1800-1853) owned over one thousand slaves and his sons continued operating their rice mills until 1865.

At the end of the war, the Lachicottes were poised to purchase land since their money had not been invested in human property. Philip R. Lachicotte purchased nearby Waverly Plantation in 1871 and began his career as a rice planter himself. He formed an agricultural cooperative and operated one of the largest and the last rice mills in the area. Up to 400 workers were employed on site and post-Civil War diversification foretold of his family’s entrepreneurship. P.R. Lachicotte and Sons developed new milling methods, added a barrel and nail factory, a shipyard, a marine railway, a lumber mill and established Waverly Mills Post Office.

Mail and passengers traveled daily by river boat on the Waccamaw and Great Pee Dee Rivers between Georgetown and Conway and made frequent stops along the way. P.R. Lachicotte’s grandson-in-law was a boat captain on one such boat. In 1889, Captain Joshua John Ward (1876-1961) was uncomfortable onboard his boat. Wanting to utilize a hammock to sleep above the boat’s floor, to catch a breeze and to avoid vermin, “Cap’n Josh” rigged a hammock with ship’s rope and wooden spreaders at each end made of halves of wagon wheels. The knots were tied above the spreaders and the hammock proved immensely more comfortable that hammocks made of cloth or barrel staves.

Beginning in the 1890s, Cap’n Josh saw an increase in river traffic related to tourism. The rise of the summer resort in America brought passengers from Georgetown and Conway to the river landings like Waverly Plantation where a “hack” (taxi) could be hired. Lachicotte family members drove horses and buggies full of tourists from the river to the beach front where their cousins had built or bought houses for use by “paying guests.” One such inn was a house, bought by P.R. Lachicotte’s son Frank, and now known as Tamarisk. Cap’n Frankie’s daughters Miss Belle and Miss Bert operated the inn and his son, Arthur Herbert “Doc” Lachicotte (1891-1968) and his wife Virginia Wilson Lachicotte (1892-1978) created a cottage industry, literally, in the yard of the 19th century beach house. By the 1930s, the couple had taken the idea of J.J. Ward, their brother-in-law, and begun to make an original Pawleys Island rope hammock, designed as souvenirs for beachgoers from near and far who frequented the inns, boarding houses and homes on the island. This joint enterprise between husband and wife was very successful.

The entire extended family had money making projects in process in the early 20th century. A southern euphemism for Mister, “Cap’n” did not mean military or nautical, but instead a show of respect, especially to an employer. “Cap’n Boo” was a master carpenter and with crews built many of the houses on the marsh and on the island. “Cap’n Claude” operated the first canning factory in SC, with employees packing vegetables and seafood and with “Cap’n Clarence” and his crews growing and harvesting on truck farms on the Waccamaw Neck. A product comparable to Tabasco, “Hot Southern Sauce” and one called, “Lachicotte’s Yankee Sauce” were developed for sale and designed to appeal to tourists. Mail and milk was delivered by donkeys to Lachicotte customers on the island and the Waccamaw Neck. Cap’n Doc’s children helped, “…not for fun, but because our father made us!” Cap’n Doc signed on to the Highway 17 road crew as a paving foreman and earned $14/week. A family run store was built at the North Causeway and by the mid-30s, was moved to the newly established Highway 17. The federal highway brought increased traffic and economic opportunity. In July 1935, a ferry was replaced by the opening of the first bridge connecting the Waccamaw Neck and Georgetown and opening assuring easy access between New York and Miami. Pawleys became “the mother of SC beaches,” “the old lady” and was described as “above and beyond the foibles of fashion --- bare feet are the rule, even for bank presidents.” International Paper Co. began construction in 1936 on what would become the world’s largest paper mill and soon filling stations, restaurants and motor courts were opening along Highway 17. Cap’n Doc and Virginia made a decision to purchase about 10 acres for about $1000 on the newly paved Ocean Highway. Once a part of the 19th century Cedar Grove, the tract east of the highway was perfect for setting up a roadside attraction. The couple moved their hammock making enterprise from the island to the highway in 1938, opening a 500 sq. ft. building called The Hammock Shop. The business flourished by adding local baskets, pottery, braided rugs and books for sale. Virginia’s own “The Runaway Path and Other Poems,” and later local cookbooks, “Potluck From Pawleys” by Cassena Inn owners Mena Hope and Gladys Hiott and “Tootsie’s Favorites, Pawley’s Island Cookin’” by caterer Tootsie Watkins were added to the inventory.

Though the Hammock Shop was one of the features that attracted tourists to Pawleys, Virginia often expressed fears that the island would become too commercialized. She loved the picturesque natural environment, the family flavor and the people. Tourists came and the Hammock Shop likely brought the greatest change to the area in the late 30s, 40s and 50s. The first addition to the shop complex was a tea room in the early 40s, which later became a print shop, selling regional art. A seasonal tourist season improved the local economy, but Pawleys remained a quiet place and oceanfront lots at $1500 were going begging. World War II brought increased military activity to the area with airfields in Georgetown and Myrtle Beach and B-25 bomber pilot training over local beaches. A 1944 month-long visit by FDR to Hobcaw Barony included the president taking a drive on Pawleys Island and through Brookgreen Gardens. The next generation of Lachicottes was serving in the military. A. H. “Lil Doc” Lachicotte, Jr. (born 1926) went off briefly to Clemson University, his father’s alma mater, Class of ’13. He then served in the US Army Infantry and returned in ’45 to re-enroll and get his degree in horticulture, having been inspired by the gardens in Japan. When he joined his parents’ business at Pawleys, he said, “I’d rather live here than anywhere else on earth.” As a child, heard his father called Doc and learned it was a nickname because his father had followed around Dr. Ward Flagg of Brookgreen. It was only natural that Cap’n Doc’s son would become “Lil Doc” and due to his height, the nickname last longer than expected.

The two men disagreed in the late 40s about expansion of the shops. “Daddy lived through the Depression and didn’t see the point in building all those shops.” But Lil Doc knew his former Clemson classmates believed he would starve trying to make a living at the beach and knew that others said he’d never make it that far south of Myrtle Beach. He set out to prove them wrong.

A.H. Lachicotte, Jr. and Martha were married and formed a strong partnership. He said he liked the creative side and she was good at the merchandising. He added a plant nursery, yet she knew adding gifts would be more important. In 1957, their buying trips included promotion of their product, the Original Pawleys Island Rope Hammock, and their travel brought improvements. While on their trips, they saw shops designed as villages and decided to create a plantation village on the Hwy 17 site. In addition to the Original Hammock Shop, the hammock making building, tea room and nursery, they moved the former school house his father had attended at Waverly Plantation to the site. The old plantation post office “Waverly Mills, SC” had been abandoned for mailboxes inside Lachicotte’s Store just south on Hwy. 17, so the little P.O. became a part of the village. Other historic looking buildings wer built including a copy of SC Poet Laureate Archibald Rutledge’s summer home in McClellanville which became a clothing boutique. Old wood, salvaged brick, towering pines and live oaks were surrounded by azaleas and camellias from the nursery.

High school graduates and college students found summer employment and Frances Robinson remembers a group heading out to the beach to pose for a postcard Lil Doc conceived to draw business to the area. She also recalls the slow days at work which allowed employees enough time to read the books for sale while on the porch of the Original Hammock Shop. One such book, published in 1955 was “Georgetown Rice Plantations” by Lil’s Doc’s sister, Alberta Morel Lachicotte Quattlebaum.

Advertising on a national basis, an ad in the New Yorker Magazine and their participation in the NY Flower Show allowed for the introduction of the Original Pawleys Island Rope Hammock and ushered in major growth over the next decade as the Lachicottes went nationwide. A store a year was added, each one reflecting local history and simple architecture. High quality gifts, each one unique, were screened by Martha to avoid duplication between shops and with other stores on the SC coast. “Shopping and Dining That Made Pawleys Island Famous” attracted people to “the oldest beach resort in SC.” In 1961, the Lachicottes modernized by installing a telephone. Few phones existed in the area since there’d been one at Marlow’s Store since the 40s and few people wanted much outside interference. Within the decade, more shops were added on new land along the south boundary and a real estate office was established. Highway 17 was widened to four-lanes in 1966 and tourism took off. In 1968, A.H. “Cap’n Doc” Lachicotte, Sr., died, coinciding with the third expansion of a hammock-making facility. First made for sale by him on the beach, then he and his wife moved the Hammock Shop to the paved road and then their son and his wife moved the manufacturing a few blocks to the west to the colonial King’s Highway.

Space opened up for a new shop and a popular new hobby was introduced to America. In 1969, Ken and Ginnie Thompson retired to Pawleys and Ginny brought her love of cross-stitch needlework with her. Lil Doc asked her to teach a course at the Hammock Shops on the old Danish craft. The Counting House soon featured Ginny’s books, designs and supplies. Ginnie Thompson Originals helped put the Hammock Shops on the map for an entirely new clientele.

Twelve buildings grew to twenty one in the 70s and 80s and the mystique continued. August Franchini, Sr., a renowned brick mason and restoration contractor, was associated with Cap’n Doc, had repaired or restored plantation houses and had built many of the stores at Hammock Shops. A native of Germany who decided to “hobo his way” to Myrtle Beach in 1935, Franchini helped create much of the beauty of the Hammock Shops, complimented by Lil Doc’s eye for landscaping.

Another influence on local traditions was being able to mark the boundaries of “Downtown Pawleys” by saying, “…from the stoplight to the Hammock Shops.” After all, that included two grocery stores, two gas stations, a pharmacy, a free standing post office and all the shopping you needed to do. At the end of the tourist season, “Doc,” as he was known to those who’d never met his father, held an annual oyster roast at Caledonia Plantation after Labor Day to mourn or to celebrate, depending on your business interests. Change is inevitable. Doc sold the manufacturing plant to outside investors in 1983 and today the hammocks are produced out of state, but still in America. Cotton or polyester hammocks can be purchased and 10% are sold locally while 90% are shipped to Australia, Germany, France, England and even the Pacific Islands. In 1989, the Hammock Shops and the entire state were hit hard by Hurricane Hugo. Rebuilding the Grand Strand meant a bigger Myrtle Beach and more competition from malls, movie theaters and many larger destination shopping complexes. Doc Lachicotte sold the Hammock Shops Village, but holds the honor of his family creating the nation’s first mass-produced hammock. After a downturn in the 90s, the Hammock Shops rebranded themselves and new leadership created new choices in “The Heart of Pawleys.” The pull of Pawleys remained strong enough to maintain a loyal following, a fifth generation of shoppers and newcomers who have chosen to explore what marketing manager Sharon Abee calls, “Purely Pawleys.” Between the satisfying shops and the long warm seasons, activities include free concerts, Easter egg hunts and Christmas with Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Many people complete their week at the beach with an outing to the Hammock Shops, now open 7 days a week, remembering visits with parents or grandparents and describe their shopping as their touchstone to Pawleys.

The humble beginnings of the Pawleys Island Hammock Shops began with hard work and a simple idea. That if a rocking chair on a porch was good, then a hammock could be better. Not only is a hammock an expression of island life, hammocks reflect a casual approach to life. Recent research by the Swiss has shown that the gentle swaying motion synchronizes brain waves. People doze off faster and attain a deeper sleep. It is that same swaying motion that mothers use to rock their babies to sleep. No longer a guilty pleasure, an Original Pawleys Island Rope Hammock is a grand way to rest, read, nap or dream --- and dreaming of Pawleys Island us surely good for your health.

Article Courtesy Of Island Magazine - Lee Gordon Brockington