Registered as a National Historic Landmark, Brookgreen Gardens and Atalaya Castle are considered to be the jewels of the Grand Strand by many. Brookgreen Gardens was the first public outdoor sculpture garden established in the United States.
Brookgreen Gardens was established in 1931 by Anne and Archer Huntington on 9,100 acres of Murrells Inlet real estate. It is located right off of Highway 17 between Surfside real estate and Pawleys Island real estate and the entrance is marked by Anna Hyatt Huntington’s larger-than-life sculpture, Fighting Stallions. The Fighting Stallions rise fifteen feet in the air and are cast in aluminum instead of the traditional bronze to prevent oxidation as well as a glare from the sun.
Brookgreen Gardens has been called, by the National Sculpture Review, (12, No. 2, Summer 1963, p. 18) “Brookgreen Gardens, America’s Largest Outdoor Museum of Sculpture,” and “the largest and most representative collection of American sculpture on exhibit anywhere in the world and the largest showing of sculpture in an outdoor setting in the United States.”
Brookgreen has over 2,000 sculptures by 425 artists which include John Quincy Adams Ward, Augustus St. Gaduins, Louis St. Gaudens, Frederick William MacMonnies, Daniel Chester French, George Grey Barnard, Frederick Remington, Henry Clews, Jr., Malvina Hoffman, and Katherine Lane Weems.
Of course, many of the sculptures were created by one of the founders, Anna Hyatt Huntington, since the original vision of Anna and Archer Huntington for the creation of Brookgreen Gardens was to showcase the sculptures of Anna Hyatt Huntington, who was a noted premier American sculptress of her time. Their plans soon changed to include representative pieces of American sculpture from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Brookgreen Gardens is not only an outdoor sculpture garden it is also a wildlife preserve and has over 1,000 species and variations of native flora and fauna. It has several themed gardens with sculptures among them, as well as, trails through several ecosystems in nature reserves, and a low-country zoo featuring animals native to the area.
Brookgreen Gardens was originally four rice plantations, The Oaks, Brookgreen, Springfield and Laurel Hill. Very little remains of the former rice plantations today except for a rice mill on the Laurel Hills Plantation and the Alston Cemetery on the Oaks Plantation. The current Brookgreen Gardens and facilities were established completely on the Brookgreen Plantation, which was owned by the largest American slaveowner, Joshua John Ward.
The actual story behind the creation of Brookgreen Gardens and their home, Atalaya, by Anna Hyatt Huntington and Archer Huntington unfolds like a fairy tale. He, age 51and the son of a railroad tycoon, was a millionaire philanthropist. She, age 45, was a famed sculptor and nationally-acclaimed artist. Neither had ever been married. In 1929, they met and fell in love.
Anna contracted tuberculosis, so they sailed down the Intracoastal Waterway to find a warmer climate and a new winter home. Landing in Georgetown County, they bought 10,000 acres of land on the Atlantic Coast which consisted of four rice plantations. They built their winter home on what is now called Huntington Beach and named it Atalaya, which is Spanish for Watchtower.
Atalaya is a castle-like structure built based on Archer’s memories of his travels on the Mediterranean Coast. It is rectangular in shape with no known blueprints and stands on three miles of undeveloped ocean-front property. Atalaya is considered the heart of Huntington Beach and is outstanding. There are over 50 rooms to explore which includes the residence, studios and stables.
Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington had a long, happy life, but they did not have any children, so they left their home and property to the citizens of South Carolina. Between the two properties, there are over 9,000 acres of southeastern flora and fauna, wildlife preserves, nature trails, and a small zoo as well as the spectacular sculptures. Atalaya and Brookgreen Gardens were designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1992.
Now, visitors renting Myrtle Beach Real Estate and locals living along the Grand Strand, which include Pawley’s Island, Litchfield, Murrell’s Inlet, Garden City, Surfside, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, can enjoy the spectacular sculpture and gardens at Brookgreen Gardens. Admission to Brookgreen is good for seven days, there is so much to see that it might take you that long.