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The island is named after the Pawley family, who were among the first European settlers in South Carolina. The town of Pawleys Island was laid out by William Henry Foote and his partners around 1855. It became a popular resort destination for wealthy Northerners during the Gilded Age, with many large homes built along Ocean Boulevard (US Route 17). In addition to its beaches and golf courses, it has become known as a center for antique shopping on both sides of Waccamaw Neck. Pawleys Island is located at . According to the United States Census Bureau, this town has a total area of , all land; however there are two small areas that have been reclaimed from marshland which are now part of an estuary system that flows into Winyah Bay just north-westward across US 17 from downtown Georgetown County's commercial district (see map below). The entire island lies within Georgetown County boundaries but only about half is considered "downtown" or "urban".