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Aiken, South Carolina

May 6, 2022

Aiken is the largest city in, and the county seat of, Aiken County, in western South Carolina. It is one of the two largest cities of the Central Savannah River Area. Founded in 1835, Aiken was named after William Aiken, the president of the South Carolina Railroad. It became part of Aiken County when the county was formed in 1871 from parts of Orangeburg, Lexington, Edgefield, and Barnwell counties. It's nickname according to Wikipedia is "The City of Trees." (I did not know that.)

Aiken is home to the University of South Carolina Aiken. According to 2019 U.S. Census estimates, its population was 30,869. The National Civic League gave Aiken the All-America City Award in 1997. Aiken was also named "best small town of the South" by Southern Living.


The municipality of Aiken was incorporated on December 19, 1835. The community formed around the terminus of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company, a rail line from Charleston to the Savannah River, and was named for William Aiken, the railroad's first president.

During Sherman's March to the Sea in the American Civil War Sherman ordered Hugh Judson Kilpatrick and the cavalry corps he commanded to march through South Carolina. By February 5, they had reached Aiken County. While in Aiken county Kilpatrick fought Joseph Wheeler and his cavalry corps. This battle, called the Battle of Aiken, was a Confederate victory.

Originally it was in the Edgefield District. With population increases, in 1871 Aiken County was organized, made up of parts of neighboring counties. Among its founding commissioners were three African-American legislators: Prince Rivers; Samuel J. Lee, speaker of the state House and the first black man admitted to the South Carolina Bar; and Charles D. Hayne, a free man of color from one of Charleston's elite families.

Aiken was a planned town, and many of the streets in the historic district are named for other cities and counties in South Carolina, including Abbeville, Barnwell, Beaufort, Chesterfield, Colleton, Columbia, Dillon, Edgefield, Edisto, Fairfield, Florence, Greenville, Hampton, Horry, Jasper, Kershaw, Lancaster, Laurens, Marion, Marlboro, McCormick, Newberry, Orangeburg, Pendleton, Pickens, Richland, Sumter, Union, Williamsburg and York.

In the late 19th century, Aiken gained fame as a wintering spot for wealthy people from the Northeast. Thomas Hitchcock, Sr. and William C. Whitney established the Aiken Winter Colony. Over the years Aiken became a winter home for many notable people, including James B. Eustis, Madeleine Astor, William Kissam Vanderbilt, Eugene Grace, president of Bethlehem Steel, Allan Pinkerton, and W. Averell Harriman.

Savannah River Plant

The United States Atomic Energy Commission's selection of a site near Aiken for a plant to produce fuel for thermonuclear weapons was announced on November 30, 1950. Residences and businesses at Ellenton, South Carolina, were bought for use for the plant site. Residents were moved to New Ellenton, which was constructed about eight miles north, or to neighboring towns.

The site was named the Savannah River Plant, and renamed the Savannah River Site in 1989. The facility contains five production reactors, fuel fabrication facilities, a research laboratory, heavy water production facilities, two fuel reprocessing facilities and tritium recovery facilities.

Historic placesEdit

  • Aiken Golf Club

  • Aiken Polo Club

  • Aiken Preparatory School

  • Aiken Tennis Club

  • Hopelands Gardens

  • Old Aiken Post Office

  • Palmetto Golf Club

  • Hitchcock Woods

  • St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church

  • Whitehall mansion

  • The Aiken Colored Cemetery, Aiken Mile Track, Aiken Training Track, Aiken Winter Colony Historic District I, Aiken Winter Colony Historic District II, Aiken Winter Colony Historic District III, Chancellor James P. Carroll House, Chinaberry, Coker Spring, Court Tennis Building, Crossways, Dawson-Vanderhorst House, Immanuel School, Joye Cottage, Legare-Morgan House, Phelps House, Pickens House, St. Mary Help of Christians Church, St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church, Charles E. Simons, Jr. Federal Court House, Whitehall, and Willcox's are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Steeplechase racing

The Aiken Steeplechase Association, founded in 1930, hosts the Imperial Cup each March and the Holiday Cup in October, both races sanctioned by the National Steeplechase Association. This event draws more than 30,000 spectators.

The Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum was established in 1977 as a tribute to the famous flat racing and steeplechase thoroughbred horses trained at the Aiken Training Track.

Other events

Aiken hosts many polo matches at its numerous polo fields. Other local events include:

  • Aiken Triple Crown

  • Aiken's Makin'

  • Battle of Aiken Reenactment

  • Bluegrass Festival

  • Fall Steeplechase

  • Hops & Hogs

  • The Lobster Races

  • Western Carolina State Fair

  • The Whiskey Road Race

  • Aiken City Limits (ACL)


  • Aiken Center for Arts - Hosts educational classes, fine arts gallery, and exhibition opportunities.

  • Aiken County Farmers Market - The oldest food market in South Carolina.

  • Aiken County Historical Museum - A living museum, also known as "Banksia" after the banksia rose, displays special exhibits of items from residents.

  • Aiken State Park

  • Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum - Displays the area's rich thoroughbred history with memorabilia, photography, and trophies.

  • Aiken Visitors Center and Train Museum - The railroad depot is on the second floor and had nine dioramas depicting railroad history.

  • Center for African American History, Art and Culture - Hosts special events of African American history.

  • DuPont Planetarium and RPSEC Observatory - Provides live presentations of stars, constellation, and visible planets.

  • Hitchcock Woods - One of the largest urban forests in the United States, at 2100 acres. Provides hiking, walking and equestrian trails.[35]

  • Juilliard in Aiken - Live artistic performances, classes, lectures, and workshops.

  • Redcliffe Plantation State Historic - slaves' and owners' lives depicted.

  • Rose Hill Estate - Historic housing for overnight stay, weddings, reunions, meetings, and dinner parties.

Notable people

In the late 19th century and the first part of the 20th century, Aiken served as a winter playground for many of the country's wealthiest families, such as the Vanderbilts, Bostwicks, and the Whitneys.

  • Lee Atwater (1951–1991), Republican strategist, advisor to Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush; raised in Aiken

  • Charles E. Bohlen (1904-1974), U.S. diplomat; raised in Aiken

  • George H. Bostwick (1909–1982), court tennisplayer, steeplechase jockey and horse trainer, eight-goal polo player; "Pete" was grandson of Jabez A. Bostwick, wealthy Standard Oil partner

  • Anna Camp, actress, played Sarah Newlin in the HBO series True Blood and Aubrey in the film Pitch Perfect

  • Jimmy Carter, boxer, member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame

  • Barney Chavous, NFL player for the Denver Broncos

  • Corey Chavous, NFL player

  • F. Ambrose Clark, equestrian, heir to the Singer Sewing Machine Company fortune

  • Robert C. De Large (1842–1874), born in Aiken, U. S. Representative from South Carolina

  • Pam Durban, American novelist and short story writer. [I think her mother was my third-grade teacher]

  • Matilda Evans, first African-American woman licensed to practice medicine in South Carolina

  • Thomas Hitchcock and wife Louise owned a 3,000-acre estate near Aiken where in 1892 he founded the Palmetto Golf Club; in 1916, Louise founded Aiken Preparatory School. They built a steeplechase training center and in 1939 founded Hitchcock Woods with 1,191 acres of their estate.

  • Tommy Hitchcock, Jr. (1900–1944), son of Thomas and Louise Hitchcock, born in Aiken; polo player; veteran of the Lafayette Escadrillein World War I, killed in World War II.

  • Priscilla A. Wooten (1936-2017), American politician who served in the New York City Council from 1983 to 2001.

  • Hope Goddard Iselin, wife of Charles Oliver Iselin and original owner of Hopeland Gardens in Aiken

  • Kevin Kisner, PGA Tour Golfer

  • DeMarcus Lawrence, American footballlinebacker for the Dallas Cowboys

  • Fred L. Lowery, Southern Baptist clergyman, began pastorate at Bethel Baptist Church in Aiken in 1960

  • Devereux Milburn, grandson of Charles Steele, a senior partner at J. P. Morgan & Company, a 10-goal polo player and one of what was known as the Big Four in international polo

  • Janie L. Mines, First African-American woman to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy (1980)

  • Eugene Odum, author of Fundamentals of Ecology, founded Savannah River Ecology Laboratory south of Aiken to study ecological impacts of the nuclear facility

  • Michael Dean Perry, former NFL defensive lineman, six-time Pro Bowl selection (1989–91, 93–94, 96), NCAA first-team All-American (1987)

  • William Refrigerator Perry, former NFL defensive lineman with Super Bowl XXchampion Chicago Bears and 3-time NCAA All-American (1982–1984)

  • Frederick H. Prince, financier who purchased William Kissam Vanderbilt's cottage Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island

  • Pat Sawilowsky (b. 1930), past president of National Ladies Auxiliary of Jewish War Veterans; her father, Herbert B. Ram,[39] owned and named Patricia Theater in downtown Aiken after her,[40] and the companion Rosemary Theater[41] was named for her sister.[42]

  • Charlie Simpkins, silver medalist, triple jump, 1992 Summer Olympics

  • Marion Hartzog Smoak (1916-2020), lawyer, United States diplomat, and South Carolina state senator

  • Grace Taylor, gymnast

  • Dekoda Watson, athlete, linebacker with San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • William C. Whitney, helped establish "Winter Colony," a 69-room winter residence

  • Paul Wight (Big Show) (b. 1972), professional wrestler and actor, seven-time world champion in wrestling

  • Troy Williamson (b. 1983), professional football player

  • Gamel Woolsey (1895–1968), writer, coined phrase "pornography of violence" in her Spanish Civil War memoir, Death's Other Kingdom (also published as Malaga Burning), born in Aiken

  • Marly Youmans, novelist and poet, born in Aiken

  • Me?

Palmetto Golf Club

Palmetto Golf Club was founded in 1892 by Thomas Hitchcock, a prominent sportsman from Long Island, New York. He and his wife attracted many wealthy families from the Northeast who established a Winter Colony in Aiken. These winter residents created several recreational facilities for polo, fox hunting, horseback riding, and tennis. Several large estates were constructed in the heart of Aiken in the vicinity of the Palmetto Golf Club, many of which continue to exist.

Recognizing the interest being taken in golf in America, Mr. Hitchcock laid out four holes in 1892 where holes #16, 17, and 18 and the practice range are now located. Title to the land and facilities was transferred to the Whitney Trustees in 1901 to assure that it would be preserved for the future. The Palmetto Golf Club has leased the facilities from the Whitney Trustees since that time and recently signed a new lease through the year 2080.

After the first four holes were constructed in 1892, Herbert Leeds, who also built Myopia Hunt Club in Boston, laid out the remainder of the initial nine holes. Palmetto was expanded in 1895 to 18 holes with the completion of the second nine holes that had been designed by Leeds and James Mackrell, Palmetto’s first golf professional. There is a record of Donald Ross having done some work at Palmetto in 1928. It is believed that his firm installed an early irrigation system on the golf course by damming up the creek down the hill from the 18th tee.

In 1932, when Dr. Alister MacKenzie had completed the Augusta National Golf Club, he was asked to draw up plans for converting the Palmetto sand greens to grass and lengthening the course. Many of the original Augusta National investors were Winter Colonists from Aiken who also belonged to Palmetto. Wendell Miller of New York, who had just finished building Augusta National, was contracted to manage the project. The work at the Palmetto used some excess materials from the Augusta National project.

There were many minor changes, mostly involving tree and bunker work, throughout the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Rees Jones suggested some bunker renovations, which began in the late 80’s and were completed when the course was re-grassed in 1995. In 2003, Tom Doak, a recognized authority on Dr. MacKenzie’s work, provided recommendations to restore some of the MacKenzie design characteristics on the golf course. This work was completed in 2005 and mainly involved reworking the bunkers and expanding the greens out towards the existing mounds and slopes. Noted golf course architect Gil Hanse is now serving as resident architect for the Club.

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