Atalaya Castle at Huntington Beach State Park

Atalaya Castle

If you’re looking for a piece of history to visit while you’re in Myrtle Beach, there are few better places to visit than Atalaya Castle at Huntington Beach State Park.

Located near Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, the castle is a treasure trove of history and magic. Built in the early 20th century by the famous industrialist and philanthropist, Archer M. Huntington, the castle stands as a testament to the Gilded Age, and the lavish lifestyle of the wealthy elite.

Atalaya castle - Huntington Beach state park
Atalaya castle – Huntington Beach state park by Colette Eshleman

Atalaya Castle is open to the public, and visitors can explore the ruins of this once-grand structure. In this blog post, we will take you on a journey through the castle’s history, architecture, and the many hidden gems that lie within its walls. Whether you’re a history buff, a lover of architecture, or simply someone who wants to experience the magic of this iconic landmark, Atalaya Castle is a must-visit destination.

Tour of Atalaya Castle

The tour begins with a panoramic view of the castle’s exterior, showcasing its imposing towers, striking arches, and weathered bricks that hint at the passage of time. As you explore further, you’ll be captivated by the intricate details adorning the walls, such as the handcrafted ironwork and delicate tile patterns.

Make your way through the castle’s courtyard, where a tranquil ambiance welcomes you. Take a moment to appreciate the lush gardens and serene fountains, which were carefully designed to reflect the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape.

Atalaya Castle (Huntington Beach State Park) & Brookgreen Gardens
Atalaya Castle (Huntington Beach State Park) & Brookgreen Gardens by J_Sturg

The carefully curated landscape surrounding Atalaya Castle further enhances its mystical charm. The castle sits on a pristine stretch of beach, with the Atlantic Ocean serving as a dramatic backdrop. The rhythmic crashing of waves against the shore provides a soothing soundtrack as you explore the grounds, creating a serene and tranquil atmosphere.

Venturing inside, you’ll be awed by the grandeur of the interior spaces. The Great Hall, with its soaring ceilings and majestic fireplace, transports you to a bygone era of opulence and refinement. As you wander through the various rooms, you’ll discover an array of artifacts, sculptures, and paintings that offer glimpses into the artistic legacy of the Huntingtons.

Atalaya Castle (Huntington Beach State Park) & Brookgreen Gardens
Interior of Atalaya Castle (Huntington Beach State Park) & Brookgreen Gardens by J_Sturg

One of the highlights of the tour is the opportunity to explore Anna Hyatt Huntington’s studio. Step into the creative sanctuary where she brought her visionary sculptures to life. Admire the tools of her trade, the unfinished sculptures that still bear the marks of her hands, and the serene ambiance that inspired her artistic process.

As you reach the end of the tour, you’ll be filled with a sense of wonder and admiration for the visionary spirit that gave life to Atalaya Castle. Its enchanting ruins stand as a testament to the power of art, history, and the enduring legacy of those who dared to dream.

The Huntingtons

Atalaya Castle, also known as Atalaya, was built in the 1930s by Archer and Anna Huntington, prominent figures in the art world. Situated within the lush surroundings of Huntington Beach State Park, the castle was designed as a winter retreat and studio for the couple. Its unique architecture draws inspiration from the Spanish-Mediterranean style, with its sturdy walls, towers, and intricate detailing.

Atalaya Castle was the home of Archer Milton Huntington (1870-1955) and his wife, Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973). Archer Huntington was the stepson of railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington. Archer was a Spanish language scholar and a philanthropist. Anna was a sculptor whose father was a professor at Harvard and MIT.

The Huntingtons moved to South Carolina from Connecticut and lived in Atalaya Castle during the winter months from 1933 (when it was completed) until 1947. After Archer’s death in 1955, Anna moved to nearby Brookgreen Gardens.

The Castle Construction

The name “Atalaya” is a Spanish word. It means “watchtower.” The Castle took three years to build. It was built by a local contractor using local labor. Archer Huntington wanted to be sure that the local community benefited from the project – something that was much appreciated during the Depression. Archer Huntington seems to have completed the construction project without paper plans of any kind.

Atalaya was a 30-room building modeled after a Moorish castle and dominated by a 40-foot tall tower that was used to store water. The Castle was square, with walls that were 200 feet long on the Castle’s exterior. Rooms were built along the inside of the Castle’s walls and the center of the residence was a palm-lined courtyard. The home included a studio for Anna Huntington which opened into its own small enclosed courtyard.

Atalaya Castle at Huntington Beach State Park
Atalaya Castle at Huntington Beach State Park by scpetrel

Mrs. Huntington designed the ironwork that covered the windows of the Castle herself. The Castle also had facilities to house animals that Mrs. Huntington used as models for her sculptures. The courtyard was divided in half by a covered walkway of open brickwork lined with arches and planters. Creeping fig vines covered most of the walls inside the courtyard. this had the effect of changing the hard brick to a softer green interior.

Archer and Anna’s private quarters were on the south side of Atalaya. Archer had a study and a bathroom. Their bedroom was on the southeast corner and held the best view of the ocean. There was a library, a foyer, a sunroom, a breakfast room, a dining room, and a servants’ quarter – all of which faced the ocean. Atalaya had six rooms set aside in some way for food preparation- including a walk-in icebox and an oyster-shucking room.

Each room had a fireplace for heat in the winter months.

Tips for visiting Atalaya Castle

To make the most of your visit, it’s important to come prepared and know what to expect. Here are some helpful tips to ensure a memorable visit:

  • Comfortable attire: As you explore the castle grounds, you’ll be walking on various surfaces, including gravel paths and sandy areas. Wearing comfortable shoes will make your visit more enjoyable. Additionally, considering the outdoor nature of the castle, it’s advisable to dress appropriately for the weather, wearing sunscreen, and hats, and carrying umbrellas or raincoats if needed.
  • Water and snacks: Exploring Atalaya Castle can be a captivating adventure that may take some time. It’s always a good idea to bring along a water bottle to stay hydrated, especially during warmer months. Packing some light snacks can also provide an energy boost during your visit.
  • Camera or smartphone: The ruins of Atalaya Castle offer remarkable photo opportunities. Don’t forget to bring your camera or smartphone to capture the picturesque views, unique architectural details, and stunning surroundings. These memories will surely be cherished for years to come.
  • Guided tours or audio guides: Atalaya Castle provides guided tours and audio guides that offer detailed information about the history, architecture, and significance of the castle. Taking advantage of these resources will enhance your understanding and appreciation of the site. Check the castle’s website or inquire on-site about the availability and timings of these services.
  • Respect the surroundings: Atalaya Castle is a historic site with significant cultural value. It’s important to respect the ruins and follow any guidelines or restrictions in place. Avoid climbing on or touching the fragile structures to help preserve them for future generations. By being mindful of your surroundings, you contribute to the conservation efforts and ensure the enjoyment of the castle for everyone.

Huntington Beach State Park

Visiting Huntington Beach State Park is a great way to spend a summer day in South Carolina! Not only can you enjoy the sun and sand at one of the Grand Strand‘s most tranquil beaches, but you can also explore Atalaya Castle, observe fascinating wildlife, and even go shore fishing.

For those looking for a longer stay, both campsites and cabins are available within the park and provide a great way to relax and reconnect with nature. Summertime is prime visiting season, so it’s best to come early or late (avoid the 10 AM to 4 PM-ish window) and plan ahead as there are long lines to get into the park.

Boardwalk above the salt marsh - Huntington Beach State Park
Boardwalk above the salt marsh – Huntington Beach State Park by hoan luong

The beach beckons with its inviting waves; however, throughout the day there are lifeguards on duty in the designated area of South Beach from May through September. Happy swimming!

Additionally, Murrells Inlet is NOT subject to Horry County ordinances, which means that dogs are allowed on the beach at any time all year round—a real plus for Homo sapiens’ furry friends!

If you’re feeling adventurous, why not try your luck at shore fishing? There’s plenty of room to set up, although it might be necessary to get a bit further away from the beachgoers. A saltwater license is required, so make sure you bring yours.

Huntington Beach State Park has much more than just sand and surf: Take an hour or two to visit Atalaya Castle and learn about Anna and Archer Huntington and their home in the 1930s. Check out their unique design style and admire Anna’s wrought iron window grates—with bonus points if you spot a few animals she used as models for her sculptures!

Finally, don’t forget about the wildlife viewing opportunities along the Atalaya Straight Road and at the Kerrigan Nature Trail. Pack your zoom lens and look out for turtles, ducks, sandpipers, alligators, blue herons, snakes, and other interesting creatures. You’ll no doubt be impressed by Mother Nature’s beauty!

Final Word

We hope you enjoyed our journey through the enchanting ruins of Atalaya Castle. Exploring this historic landmark is truly a mesmerizing experience, transporting you back in time to a world of knights and royalty. From the crumbling walls to the intricate architectural details, every corner of Atalaya Castle tells a story waiting to be discovered. Whether you are a history enthusiast or simply seeking a unique adventure, a visit to Atalaya Castle is a must. So grab your camera, lace up your walking shoes, and embark on a captivating exploration of this hidden gem. Happy travels!

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