Monument to 1953 Aiken blast OK 'd

AIKEN --- A deadly explosion in downtown Aiken more than 56 years ago was recognized Monday night as city council members agreed to build a monument in memory of the disaster.


Allen Riddick applied for the monument on behalf of the Aiken County Historical Society. It will be erected at the site of the explosion, on the west side of the 100 block of Laurens Street Southwest, near Richland Avenue.

The blast on the morning of Jan. 27, 1953, was caused by a natural gas leak at Jones Electric Co. It destroyed the business, damaged five others and killed 10 people.

According to an Augusta Chronicle account, the damage was estimated at $2 million, and it was considered the worst disaster the city had experienced.

"Thousands of spectators thronged Aiken's streets during the day to gaze at the devastating catastrophe," The Chronicle's article said the day after.

Also Monday, members addressed the presence of about 25 billboards outside city limits.

Since the 1990s, city policy has required that properties have billboards removed before receiving city utility services. As a result, city officials say, the billboards are hindering development.

On Monday, council members agreed to change the policy to allow utilities to be provided to a site as long as a billboard is removed by the time its lease expires.

The council also heard details about a plan to reduce stormwater runoff into Hitchcock Woods.

The plan, which has received $3.34 million in stimulus funding, will involve work to some downtown parkways and parking areas so they can more effectively capture water runoff. Ideas include incorporating rain gardens and even the use of a pervious material for pavement.

Reach Preston Sparks at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or