The History of Ark Plantation, Surfside Beach

by the Town of Surfside Beach

During South Carolina’s colonial and antebellum days, the area that we now know as the Town of Surfside Beach was a plantation called The Ark.

After years of researching and putting together a puzzle of facts, we are happy to announce that the Ark Plantation is recognized by the State of South Carolina as a historic site, and historical markers are now in place indicating such.

On Saturday, March 2, 2019, the Town of Surfside Beach along with the Surfside Beach Historical Society (SBHS), held a ceremony to unveil two historical markers, both of which covered the early history of the Surfside Beach area.

A crowd of approximately ninety gathered at the site of the former main house of the Ark Plantation, which dates to the 1700s. That site is now the Ark Plantation Park, and is owned and preserved by the Town of Surfside Beach. It is located at the corner of 3rd Avenue S. and Willow Drive. 

It was from this historic site that the Town of Surfside Beach slowly evolved. The site of the cemetery marker is a small piece of public property also owned by the Town of Surfside Beach. It is located at the intersection of Sixth Ave. South, South Myrtle Drive, and Juniper Drive.

The marker acknowledges that the two adjacent town blocks were at one time a historic cemetery for the Ark Plantation. The honor of unveiling the Ark Cemetery marker went to Sadie Parmley and Cad Holmes, both of whom are descendants of those buried at the Ark Cemetery.

The two markers are part of the official South Carolina Historical Marker Program, administered by the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. The Surfside Beach Historical Society is excited to offer tours of the sites to the general public, free of charge. The tour starts at the homesite of the plantation owner, John Tillman, at 3rd Avenue South and Willow Drive.

You’ll begin your tour at the historical society, which holds records of John Tillman’s life in the 1800s. You will then go down to the oceanfront and learn about the travels of John Bartram, a botanist who was active in this area around 1765, as well as George Washington who visited in 1791. 

See the lookout where the fishermen would wait for the mullet to come in before casting their nets, while telling stories of the Great Storm. The tour concludes with facts about the Ark Burial Grounds, the families of the Ark Plantation, and the story of Sabe Rutledge, also known as Uncle Sabe, whose story is on record at the Library of Congress.

The tours are held from 2 – 4 pm on the first and third Saturdays in April, May, June, September, October and November.

Not to be missed: the Living History Event will be held on November 2, 2019, where you can experience what life was like in the 1800s. 

For more information contact: Joyce Suliman – Chairman Surfside Beach Historical Society at 843-222-8442, or visit for the event calendar. 

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