"The land of the vineyard, valley and streams, The four square County of Aiken, Where scenic beauty reigns supreme, an empire in the making. Secure from tides and ocean mists, and free from sleet and snow, Old Aiken County heads the list, with plenty of room to grow.” Thomas H. Williamson
To those of you desiring more than a casual glance, welcome to historic Aiken. Come and experience our town with its beautiful parkways and shaded streets, its double avenues and historic mansions. Enjoy a bit of our intriguing folklore, learn about Aiken’s historic railroad and the Winter Colony influence.
The South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company was established in 1828. William Aiken, president of the Railroad Company and one of South Carolina’s leading cotton merchants, hired Horatio Allen, a distinguished engineer who later built the Brooklyn Bridge, to build a railroad from Charleston to Hamburg, South Carolina, a site on the Savannah River. Work began in 1830 and on October 2, 1883, the first train arrived in the newly established town of Aiken, named in honor of the first railroad president. In 1834, engineers Alfred Dexter and C. O. Pascalis laid out the town with its wide streets and parkways, and Aiken was chartered in 1835. Aiken attracted many visitors, particularly wealthy Charlestonians who spent their summers at the "place of retreat from the heat and malaria of unhealthier regions." In 1865, as the War Between the States neared a conclusion, Confederate General Joseph Wheeler took his position in the town of Aiken to oppose Sherman’s raid and put an end to the Union advance westward. It was one of Sherman’s rare defeats along the way. Aiken recovered quickly from the War and in 1870 began to attract wealthy Northerners, who were lured to the area by the opportunities for equestrian sports, thus establishing Aiken’s celebrated “Winter Colony.” Among those who wintered here was Thomas Hitchcock, who with the Whitney’s established the tract of land known as Hitchcock Woods for public use.
The restorations experienced in houses and churches reflect the wealth and sophistication of the population during the Winter Colony era and illustrate its impact on the community. Hayne Avenue, Colleton, Avenue, South Boundary and Whiskey Road are old, fashionable residential avenues, which attracted both local residents and winter visitors to build beautiful homes. Historic downtown Aiken continues to serve as a vibrant business hub for the community and provides a unique identity and charm for the area.