AIKEN --- After a decade of winters in Florida, Ohio-native Vern Kraushaar set up an appointment with an Aiken real estate agent hoping to cut some of his travel.
Even with no friends or an interest in Aiken's typical hobbies of golf or horses, Kraushaar was sold.
In 2006 he and his brother purchased a lot on the "over 55" street in Woodside Plantation and built a 1,600-square-foot home that suited Kraushaar's bachelor needs and accommodated his brother's family and dogs.
"It worked out beautifully, and I've been impressed with the level of service from everyone in Aiken -- from the pest control to the guy that checks my heating and air," he said.
Kraushaar is among the snow birds that continue to make Aiken a name in "wintering."
Aiken became a playground for the rich and famous at the turn of the 20th century, attracting families such as the Vanderbilts, the Astors and William Zeigler, the founder of the New York Stock Exchange and the original owner of Green Boundary on Whiskey Road.
Although there's no official count of Aiken's part-time residents, the influence can be seen in added traffic along the dirt roads around Aiken's Training Track and popular spots such as Hitchcock Woods and Hopelands Gardens.
Canadian Mike Keogh began renting a home in Aiken in 1993 to follow horse trainer Gustav Schickedanz to the area.
Though early mornings mean enduring cold temperatures and little sunlight, Keogh said it's nothing compared to snow and ice that keep a horse from training at all.
"The ground isn't frozen here, so it's a good surface to continue training," he said.
It took moving to New Jersey to bring Aiken native Glenn Thompson back to the area, even if for only part of the year.
The Thoroughbred trainer began at Aiken Prep and eventually moved north during high school. It wasn't until returning home in 2001 while his mother was dealing with liver cancer that he felt it was time to come back.
He and his wife, Lisa, purchased and renovated a four-bedroom home near the Aiken Training Track that serves as home and lodging for visiting clients and employees.
A hot tub and steamer are also a nice welcome after a long day on the track, which sometimes includes getting bucked off his horses.
"It made me appreciate it more," Thompson said about leaving Aiken. "I'm really blessed that I have clients that will let me come here."
Thompson said the winter allows his younger race horses time between summer races, which in turn lets their bones grow stronger, Thompson said.
Each winter's return also means working in rounds of golf at Palmetto Golf Club.
"I just love to play it, and I've been lucky to play Augusta (National) a few times when I'm here," he said. "People here are just nicer. When they ask, 'How are you?' they actually mean it."
Real estate agents say interest in winter homes vary from renters who are here for business to those who know they'll return each year and are ready to make an investment.
Agent Jane Page Thompson said she's also noticed part-time residents still tend to find their "birds of a feather" in their home away from home. Pennsylvanians are near Pennsylvanians and Canadians are near other Canadians, she said.
When choosing a home, residents aren't just looking for recreation, but a quality of life that allows them to be a part of a community.
"Edgefield didn't have much to offer in terms of a town, but Aiken offered recreation and a place where I could leave my home part of the year and not worry," said Kraushaar, a retired teacher.
Kraushaar's season begins in early November, just after he's enjoyed the autumn in Ohio, and runs through March.
"I get home in time to do taxes," he said.
Kraushaar, who moved to Aiken knowing no one, said just talking to residents downtown and in restaurants helped him meet people easily.
He became a regular at Ruby Tuesday's when he found out the manager at the time was an Ohio native. It earned him an invite to the employee's Thanksgiving dinner in 2007, where he tasted his first fried turkey.
"The people on my street were definitely instrumental in making me feel at home, too, and we throw street parties," he said.
Continuing to remain just a winter resident also offers a chance for the city and people to remain a novelty, Kraushaar said.
"I always tell people that I never stay in one place so they never get tired of me," he said.
, Jan. 28, 2011, in Aiken, S.C. \nRAINIER EHRHARDT/STAFF
Ohio resident Vern Kraushaar owns a home in Aiken. At top, Canadian Mike Keogh (right) and his assistant, Robert Martin, ride at the Aiken Training Track.