Brief History of Aiken County, South Carolina

Few if any counties in America have a more varied and fascinating history than Aiken County, South Carolina. The Aiken area was once home to a Native American culture that developed the earliest known pottery in North America. Our county was traversed in 1540 by Hernando DeSoto as he searched for the fabled gold of the Cheifdom of Cofitachequi. English pioneers trod its soil soon after they founded Charles Town in 1670. It was home to the first garrison of English soldiers to patrol the Carolina interior from their base at Fort Moore near the banks of the Savannah River in 1715.

Aiken County saw one of the first "railroad towns" spring up in the mid 1830's when the world's longest railroad was built connecting Charleston on the coast and Hamburg on the Savannah River. This town, Aiken, and later the county, were named for the president of that 136 mile long railroad, William Aiken. Once accessible by train, the higher elevation and sandy soil of the area lured refugees from Charleston summers who gave the town of Aiken its first identity. Meanwhile, the county became home to the first large textile mill in the South when William Gregg chose the Horse Creek Valley for his Graniteville Cotton Mill in 1845. This western section of the county would be dominated by cotton manufacturing for more than a century to come.

Towards the end of the Civil War, the Battle of Aiken occurred on February 11, 1865 as Sherman's army made its way across South Carolina. The principle commanders were Union Maj. Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick and Confederate Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler. Wheeler was able to score a victory over Kilpatrick and prevented the probable destruction of Aiken. After the Civil war in 1871, the boundaries of Aiken County were created by taking parts of Barnwell, Edgefield, Lexington and Orangeburg counties. Aiken County's reputation as a health resort soon spread north, and by the late 1800's annual pilgrimages to the county's temperate winter climate brought the northern leisure class to ride horses and golf on one of the earliest courses in the south. The hum of the mills and the elegant mansions of the "Winter Colony" were uninterrupted until 1950, when the "cold war" led to the building of the Savannah River Plant for the making of thermonuclear materials. Thus the latest chapter in the county's history brought a new wave of "outsiders" and a dramatic change in the county's life.