Aiken, got its start when William Moseley established a trading post in the area in 1790. In 1830, William Aiken, Sr., president of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company, built a line to connect Charleston with Hamburg, South Carolina, that ran through what would become Aiken. In 1833, the first train arrived in the newly established town of Aiken, and the city was incorporated in 1835.
After the Civil War, Aiken began to attract wealthy northerners, who were lured to the area by equestrian sports. Aiken’s celebrated “Winter Colony” included such eminent visitors as Elizabeth Arden, Thomas Hitchcock, William C. Whitney, and Harold Vanderbilt.
Aiken is rich in historic homes and buildings from the Winter Colony years and our walking tour will start in the center of town...
corner of Laurens Street and Richland Avenue
The town clock stands in the center of Aiken’s central business district.
WALK NORTH ON LAURENS STREET.
Efron House & Garage
139 Laurens Street
Built circa 1895, this was the home of the Efron family who ran a garage behind the house, as well as a limousine and taxi service. The house was beautifully restored in 1988 by Four Generations, Inc. The house and garage are now commercial property.
TURN LEFT ON BARNWELL AVENUE.
221 Greenville Street, northwest corner of Barnwell Avenue, NW
Built around 1900, this Dutch colonial revival structure was the winter home of Sheffield Phelps. Phelps, a journalist and lawyer, was born in New Haven, Connecticut on July 24,1864. He was a son of a William Walter Phelps, Minister to Germany, and Ellen Sheffield, and grandson of John Jay Phelps, the organizer of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, and Joseph E. Sheffield, founder of the Sheffield Scientific School, of Yale. A full-time resident of New Jersey, he died in Aiken in 1902 of typhoid fever at the age of 38. He was the owner of a game preserve of 2,000 acres, much of which became Hitchcock Woods. The Garden Club of South Carolina, which was organized by the Claudia Wright Phelps, held their first meeting on the grounds which were a profusion of camellias, as well as exotic trees and shrubs. Rose Hill was the first Aiken property listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Ford House
602 Barnwell Avenue, NW
The Ford House was started in 1885 by Arthur P. Ford, who contracted with James M. Curtis to build the house. It was completed in 1886 at a total cost of $1,613. Ford was publisher of the Aiken Recorder in the 1880s, but achieved greater literary fame with the publication of his Civil War memoirs, Life in the Confederate Army and Some Experiences and Sketches. One of the previous owners of the house was Mrs. Robert Carter whose daughter, actress Joanne Woodward, visited her often
Aiken Preparatory School
619 Barnwell Avenue, NW
Aiken Prep School, with its college prep environment, was founded in 1916, by Mrs. Thomas Hitchcock. This school will be moving to a new location, but this site is a landmark in Aiken’s early history.
TURN LEFT ON LANCASTER STREET AND TURN RIGHT ON HAYNE AVENUE.
704 Hayne Avenue, SW
This house, with its paired Corinthian columns, exquisite woodwork and secret doorways and widow’s walk, was built circa 1900 by Dr. Wright, who practiced medicine in Aiken and throughout Horse Creek Valley. This home was rented to the Cabots, one the “First Families of Boston” that has produced United States Senators and diplomats, as a winter residence for 12 seasons.
718 Hayne Avenue, SW
This Italian Renaissance style was designed by Architect Willis Irvin, and built circa 1923 by a winter visitor, Mr. Pitkin. It features a two-story wing with a French window and balcony on the second floor. Across Hayne Avenue from Idylwood is a brick wall behind which once stood a house that was rented to Mrs. Evelyn Walsh McLean, who owned the Hope Diamond, which she kept in a silk stocking in a dresser drawer.
CROSS THE STREET AND WALK BACK UP THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF HAYNE AVENUE.
739 Hayne Avenue, SW
Dr. Harry Wilds, a local family physician, and his wife built this residence circa 1924. It was designed by architect Harley Ellis Devereaux of Michigan, a family friend of the Wilds.
707 Hayne Avenue, SW
This typical winter colony cottage was designed in the 1890s for Thomas Collier Platt, a two-time United States Congressman and three-time United States Senator from New York who was instrumental in incorporating the consolidation of New York City in 1898. After the Senator’s death, Mrs. Platt married William Atwater, an aviator who flew on one of the Wright brothers’ first planes. The home was then purchased in 1905 by Herman Hahn, who owned and operated Hahn & Company, a high quality, old-fashioned grocery store.
northeast corner of Hayne Avenue and Lancaster Street
Built in 1889, A.K. Lorenz purchased this house in 1916. Mr. Lorenz assumed control of local Journal and Review along with James F. Byrnes, who withdrew from the printing business in 1912 upon his election to Congress. Mr. Byrnes later served as U.S. Secretary of State and as Governor of South Carolina.
TURN LEFT ON PENDLETON STREET, SW.
St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church
125 Pendleton Street, SW
Built in 1842 and remodeled in 1926, this is the oldest church building in Aiken. Directly behind the sanctuary are interred the botanist Henry Ravenel, the poet James Matthews Legare, many other important South Carolinians, and both Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the 1865 Battle of Aiken. Mead Hall Episcopal School, founded in 1955, is part of the church campus. post-modern, 530-feet, 39-story Energy Center was designed by HKS, Inc. in 1984. It is sheathed in granite panels and reflective bronze glass with a tiered crown.
TURN RIGHT ON RICHLAND AVENUE AND RIGHT AGAIN ON LAURENS STREET.
113 Laurens Street, SW
The Holley Building opened in 1901; a million-dollar sprucing up occurred 100 years later.
143 Laurens Street, SW
This block of handsome two-story brick stores is a fitting memorial to George W. Croft, one of the town’s most distinguished prominent citizens who was a lawyer and later a U.S. Congressman during the late 1800’s. One of George Croft’s crowning achievements was sponsoring legislation in the General Assembly to prohibit child labor in South Carolina cotton mills in the 1800s. It was built in 1884.
153 Laurens Street, SW
This was the first brick building on the town’s main street with solid brick walls. It was built in 1867 by W. Perroneau Finley, Aiken’s first attorney, who began his practice here in 1837. He was originally from Charleston and was at one time President of the College of Charleston. Toole & Toole purchased the property in 1965 and continues the practice of law here.
Farmers & Merchants Building
167 Laurens Street, SW
A bank has occupied the corner of Laurens Street and Park Avenue since 1889. This one dates to 1912, six years after The Farmers & Merchants Bank was organized and chartered in 1906. It was combined with the Chatfield Building, which was built in 1898. Over its 75-plus years, the Farmers & Merchants Bank had only three presidents, all members of the McNair family.
Laurens Street and Park Avenue
This circle with its cast iron Victorian fountain was named for Thomas R. Morgan, who was Mayor of Aiken in 1889 and 1900. His main interest was city beautification, especially encouraging plantings in our parks. It was most recently refurbished in 1963.
Old Post Office
203 Laurens Street, SW
This fine example of Palladian architecture was built in 1912. The handsome brick office, with high metal dome and decorative rail around the roof, was especially designed to fit into a corner of the town’s main square. The interior features 16’ ceilings with woodwork and cabinets of solid oak.
underpass of Laurens Street
The Aiken section of the railroad track, which ran from Hamburg, S.C. on the Savannah River to Charleston, was originally on Park Avenue. A portion of the original road bed still exists in Hitchcock Woods. The track was moved when this “cut” was dug in 1853. When the 136-mile track was laid in the 1830’s, it was the longest railroad in the world. As surveying for the railroad was done, two miles were laid out on each side of the track, squares were to be 4 acres in size with streets 150 feet wide. These plans helped in the development of Aiken’s 176 beautiful parkways.
TURN LEFT ON SOUTH BOUNDARY AVENUE, SE. TURN LEFT ON NEWBERRY STREET, SW.
337 Newberry Street, SW
Dr. and Mrs. B.H. Teague built this home, which has six corner fireplaces and one out-building, which was the kitchen in the original plan. Their daughter, Elizabeth Teague, one of Aiken’s most important citizens, lived in this house during her most productive years as a teacher and writer.
TURN RIGHT ON COLLETON AVENUE.
100 Colleton Avenue, SW
This elegant inn flourished in the early 1900s as a gathering place for many eminent winter visitors, including Elizabeth Arden, Harold Vanderbilt, The Duke of Windsor and Governor Averill Harriman of New York. It was established in 1898 by caterer Frederick S. Willcox. The Willcox reputation was built on its atmosphere, impeccable service and excellent cuisine. It continues as an inn today.
southeast corner of Colleton Avenue and Whiskey Road
The northern end of this large 2-story brick building was built circa 1891 by John Staubes. The southern portion was erected in 1914, and two wings were added to the southeast side of the annex around 1930. It was used as a public school until it reopened as the Aiken County Public Library in 1990.
225 Colleton Avenue, SE
This charming cottage was built in 1927 by two Aiken sisters who sold it immediately to Mr. E. M. Byers for a winter residence. Mr. Byers, a confirmed bachelor, played day and night Рriding, playing tennis and partying. Workmen confirm the house to be extremely well built. There are seven chimneys. Inside the chimneys is a whorled effect done with the brick to draw the smoke upward, a design patented by Benjamin Franklin.
325 Colleton Avenue, SE
This imposing home in the early 1900s was acquired from the Astor family of New York by Perroneau Finley Henderson, a distinguished Aiken attorney who lived here for many years. The home faces the site of the former Vanderbilt home across the street. This intersection was occupied (perhaps at different times) by two of America’s wealthiest families.
405 Colleton Avenue, SE
This 2-1/2 story rambling frame house, once owned by Marshall Field heir Tommy Leiter, had extensive remodeling by members of Aiken’s winter colony. Behind the house is a stable that was converted to three guest suites.
427 Colleton Avenue, SE
This 2-story weatherboard house from the 1890s has four chimneys and a truncated hip roof with plain-boxed cornice. In the center of the five-bay facade is an entrance with semicircular fanlight, broken-pediment, and fluted pilasters. There is a one-story porch across the central three bays of the facade.
505 Colleton Avenue, SE
The Post family’s ties with Aiken date to 1912, when Fred Post of Long Island brought his first polo ponies to Aiken. Shortly after buying Rest Period, then a modest home, the family began extensive additions, including a south wing added in 1930. The home was the setting for the 1939 marriage of their daughter, Frances, to Ricardo Santos Santamarina, son of the vice president of Argentina before Peron came to power. Mrs. Santamarina, who had attended the Fermata School, met her husband while playing polo.
523 Colleton Avenue, SE
This rambling 2-1/2 story weatherboard farm house with its irregular plan has an elevator and 12 main spacious rooms, and is built with cross ventilation in mind. Brick walkways, pebble spread trails and swept paths lead you around an exquisite garden and yard to a water lily pond. It was built around 1890.
607 Colleton Avenue, SE
The front elevation of this 1-1/2 story weatherboard house is distinguished by a gabled porch with Tuscan columns and a central dormer. The oldest part of the house was built in the 1800s with other wings added in the early 1900s. An L-shaped garage/stable, circa 1925, stands at the southern end of the property, which also has a beautiful garden.
621 Colleton Avenue, SE
Built for Martha Staubes Gyles and Judge Herbert Gyles, this house is irregular in plan and has 3 large brick interior chimneys with corbelled caps. This was once the home of Nancy Potter Bourne, a wealthy socialite who was a Ponds face cream model
312 Horry Street, SE at the corner of Colleton Avenue
Edward Palmer Henderson built this rambling, weatherboard, Colonial style cottage. The charming, livable home was once owned by noted novelist Gouverneur Morris of New York, who entertained here the famous author Richard Harding Davis.
CROSS THE BOULEVARD AND WALK BACK TOWARDS THE CENTER OF TOWN.
418 and 410 Colleton Avenue, SE & 402 Colleton Avenue, SE -”Wits End.”
John Staubes, a local builder who owned this entire block, added a number of houses on this street. The Staubes family came from Germany in the early 1800s. These three houses are good examples of the Aiken cottages being built by the Staubes family during this time.
Elm Court/Vanderbilt Mansion
306 Colleton Avenue, SE
In the mid-1850s, William Gregg, Jr., son of the founder of the Graniteville Company, built a large frame house with a broad veranda on this site. In 1872, the house became Aiken’s first courthouse and jail. William K. Vanderbilt purchased the home in 1914 and named it “Elm Court.” Many famous people visited the Vanderbilts during the 13 years they owned the property. Fire destroyed the original house on January 25, 1970.
TURN RIGHT ON YORK STREET, SE.
244 York Street, SE
Formerly known as “Holly Trees,” this house was built circa 1850 by Dr. William Percival who lived here with his family. Mrs. Brooks Thayer, a wealthy recluse, later purchased the house and named it “Windows.” In order to protect her anonymity, Mrs. Thayer also bought the small house next to her large one, hoping the public would be unsure of where she was staying. This home has had many interesting tenants and guests including George Herbert Walker, donor of the Walker Cup, the coveted amateur golfing award.
253 York Street, SE
Built in 1850 and believed to be one of the oldest houses in Aiken, York House served as an inn for most of its early years. The owner in 1892 advertised that it had been “thoroughly overhauled” and that its table was “the best”. At one time it was occupied as a winter residence by Mabel Brady Garvan, sister of ‘Diamond Jim’ Brady. In the mid 1900s the inn’s 30 rooms were converted into seven apartments. Today it is being restored to its original glory.
TURN LEFT ON PARK AVENUE, SE.
Chapel of St. Claire
100 Block of Park Avenue, SE
The cornerstone for this Semi-Gothic style building was laid in the autumn of 1905. Within the church stands the life-size bronze statue of the Virgin and Child by Gustave Dore; which won third prize in the world competition of sculpture in Paris in 1880. The plan for the Chapel of St. Claire, which dates to August 7, 1879, was drawn under the direction of Mlle Celestine Elizabeth Eustis, who commissioned artist M. Lorin of France to paint on glass the scene of St. Claire pleading for the Lord to repel the Saracens who were advancing toward Assisi.
Aiken County Courthouse
109 Park Avenue, SE
Constructed in 1881 on a lot originally known as ‘The Courthouse Square,’ the building was of red brick. In 1934, architect Willis Irvin prepared plans for remodeling, at which time the cupola was changed to house the town clock, a weathervane was placed on the pinnacle, and the exterior was stuccoed. Original doors and brass locks are still in use in the main building which was extensively renovated in 1987 when an addition was built.
211 Park Avenue, SW
Now a funeral home, this facility was built in 1869 by William McGeorge who said, “at a cost of some $10,000, this house grew up under my hands until it became like a little hotel.” It has sixteen large rooms with an open fireplace and a closet in each. It was given the name Deodara for the giant cedars that once grew on the property.
204 Park Avenue, SW
Built for druggist Dr. W. H. Harbors, this became the home of former public school teacher John Eubanks in 1903. It is one of the oldest houses in downtown Aiken, dating to 1860.
United States Court House
223 Park Avenue, SW
The Charles E. Simons Jr. Federal Court House is a two-story, five-bay brick building with half-basement. Constructed in 1935, it was designed by South Carolina architects Lafaye and Lafaye in the Georgian Revival.
TURN RIGHT ON LAURENS STREET.
214 Laurens Street, SW
Designed by architect Willis Irvin and built in 1938, the Municipal Building was extensively remodeled in 1987. This site has been occupied by several public buildings, including a brick police station and jail and an opera house where Will Rogers gave a benefit performance.
Aiken Club Room and Court Tennis Building
146 Newberry Street, SW
The Aiken Club, an exclusive men’s club, was incorporated in 1898, and the court tennis facility was constructed about 1902. The sport had its roots as far back as medieval Europe. This building is one of only nine courts in the United States and is still in use today.
235 Richland Avenue, SW at southeast corner of Laurens Street
The building was constructed 1898 by Henry Hahn. Purchased by the Holley family in 1929, the hotel was refurbished as a modern fireproof hostelry with 50 bedrooms with private baths. Owned and managed by the Holley family for 50 years, the hotel is now under new ownership.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO YOUR STARTING POINT.