Known as a part of Thoroughbred Country, Aiken County encompasses horse farms, polo fields, golf courses, gardens, and much more . The county seat of the same name features a quaint downtown district and a local museum that displays local history highlighting the city that was once a "winter colony" for the affluent. The county is bordered by the Edisto & Savannah Rivers so fishing, hiking, and boating options are prevalent.
Hopelands Gardens is a 4-acre garden and former estate of the Aiken Winter Colony (a time period when wealthy northerners flocked to the area). The gardens are now city-owned and operated and are enjoyed for afternoon strolls and evening events by locals and visitors alike. Hopelands' water features, bridges and statues make it a popular photography location. On site is also a Sears & Roebuck Dollhouse (the original owner's playhouse and schoolroom for their children) and the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.
Completed in 1859, the Greek-Revival mansion was the home of James Henry Hammond and 3 generations of his descendants. Hammond, whose political career included terms as a U.S. Congressman, governor of South Carolina, and a U.S. Senator, was perhaps best known as an outspoken defender of slavery and states’ rights. It was Hammond who coined the phrase “Cotton is King” in an 1858 speech to the Senate. Today you can take a tour of the historic home or participate in educational programs focusing on the daily life of African Americans who worked and lived at Redcliffe, heirloom gardening and agriculture.
Four spring-fed lakes and the meandering South Fork Edisto River make Aiken State Park a popular destination to go birding, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, picnicking, campings and hiking. The park was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Located within Banksia, an original winter colony mansion, the museum features both permanent and temporary exhibits, educational tours, children's programs. The museum highlights the unique history of the area including architecture, nature, pottery, military, and more. On the grounds you'll find a one-room schoolhouse and log cabin from the 1800s.
The Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum is located inside Hopelands Gardens and celebrates the great tradition of racing and Aiken's vital role in it. Thirty-nine Champion Thoroughbreds have trained at the famed Aiken Training Track and each has been immortalized in the Hall of Fame. Flat racers and steeplechase horses, from 1942 through the present are featured in the museum along with photos, trophies and other memorabilia that highlight the careers of these famous horses.
Built in the late 1800s as a country store, the Beech Island Visitor Center showcases the 300-plus years of history of Beech Island, a community which dates back to 1685 and was named for the beech trees growing along the wetlands and islands in the Savannah River. Housing a small museum as well as an archive research room, the center serves as the headquarters for the Beech Island Historical Society and also features a totally renovated historic barn with agriculture exhibits.
Langley Pond is a recreational venue for swimming, boating and rowing. Originally named Horse Creek Pond, as the Westos tribe favored the water source for their horses, the pond is the location for Pow Wows, triathlons and other events. Competitors come from all over the world to compete in national and regional regattas. It is the world’s largest pond, just inches short of a lake! On site, visitors will find a large picnic shelter and grills. There is also a playground, concession stand, bath house, boat ramp, special events area, swim area and sandy beach to enjoy.
The Living History Park is a place to witness history first-hand. The park features a reproduction of a complete Colonial settlement including a Smoke House, Spring House Tavern, Willow Springs Meeting House, Blacksmith's Forge, a Colonial Slave Cabin, schoolhouse, barn, mercantile and more. A handicap-accessible sensory garden is also on the property, which hosts several popular living history events each year.
Silver Bluff is nestled along 2.5 miles of the Savannah River and is comprised of over 3,000 acres of forests, fields, lakes, ponds and streams that support a wide variety of wildlife, including over 200 species of birds such as Wood Storks and Bald Eagles. Visitors can enjoy a system of walking trails and special-event programming throughout the year, and learn of the rich history of the property that was once the site of visits by Spanish and English explorers, an 18th century trading post and a Revolutionary War skirmish.
The Wagener Museum contains artifacts from the prehistoric Indian era to present. The collection includes arrowheads, farm implements, a 1915 working gramophone with cylinder records, cotton gin sharpening machine, blacksmith tools and more.