Even before the Masters Tournament lured visitors to Augusta, Aiken was already earning fame among the famous.
“It was a playground for the American aristocracy,” said Elliott Levy, the director of the Aiken County Historical Museum, which includes
exhibits chronicling the city’s famous “Winter Colony” and its homes and horse stables owned by the nation’s wealthiest families.
“They were all here – the Rockefellers, the Mellons, Henry Ford,” he said. “This is where all the power was in the United States.”
The museum, housed in one of the elegant mansions in the heart of the city’s Winter Colony district, also has exhibits covering the creation of the “bomb plant,” now called Savannah River Site, where 38,000 workers once toiled in the manufacture of nuclear weapons.
When the government acquired land for the 310-square-mile site, farms – and entire towns – were lost. Among the museum displays is the counter from Moody Drugstore, which once stood in the town of Dunbarton, which vanished. The display features a 1950s fully-stocked counter, complete with the store’s original soda fountain.
Other rooms at the museum feature science and nature, the famous pottery manufactured in the 1800s in what is known as the “Edgefield District” of South Carolina and a room devoted to North Augusta, where the largest wooden structure in the world – the Hampton Terrace Hotel – opened December 17, 1903, and served guests including Harvey Firestone, Marshall Field, and President-elect William Howard Taft.
There is also an exhibit that highlights golf in Aiken County, featuring the Palmetto Golf Course (the second oldest continuous running 18-hole course in the country) where Harry Varden, Byron Nelson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Bobby Knowles, Bing Crosby and many others have played.
“This is where the power was, and golf, of course, is where it all got shared and talked about,” Levy said. “It’s interesting stuff.”