The Calabash area gained its namesake for gourds that were found in the area and used for drinking. Although it is now in North Carolina, it was regarded as a part of South Carolina until 1735, and the area did not enjoy an independent identity from the Little River, South Carolina, area until well into the twentieth century.
In the 1930s two families, the Beck's and the Coleman's, began hosting outdoor oyster roasts, laying the seeds for the modern-day seafood industry. Between the 1940s and early-1960s a handful of seafood restaurants began to operate in the sleepy fishing village tucked just inside the North Carolina state line. Primarily built along the banks of the Calabash River, the first restaurants in operation were Beck's, The Calabash Seafood Hut, Coleman's, Dockside, and Ella's, and all still enjoy a thriving customer base today. An early customer at Coleman's was entertainer Jimmy Durant, who plausibly fashioned his sign-off motto, "Good night Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are" as an homage to Mrs. Coleman.
Adopting a unique style of frying fish and shrimp — lightly seasoned and battered then flash fried and always accompanied by hush puppies — these restaurants created the nucleus of the town, and soon endeared it with the title, "The Seafood Capital of the World." The popularity of the style increased well beyond the confines of the Carolinas, creating an impressive tourism industry centered on the seafood restaurants.
The Town of Calabash was incorporated in 1973. Due to the population growth of Brunswick County, NC, and Horry County, SC, as well as the overwhelming success of the restaurants, a number of golf courses, retail stores, charter fishing boats and art galleries began to emerge. Residential real estate developments followed soon thereafter, and since the mid-1980s the vicinity of Calabash has spawned a number of housing communities. The oldest of these, Carolina Shores, broke off to form an independent town in 1998. At present, Calabash enjoys about 1,400 full-time residents and hosts over 30 restaurants.
The area remains an attractive hub for commuters working in the Myrtle Beach area, those who want to enjoy the coastal lifestyle without paying a premium for island property, and retirees looking for a laidback community that combines the accessibility of a city with the substance of a quaint village.