Discover Aiken: Founded in 1871, hidden history found in every corner of Aiken County

·3 min read

Sep. 26—Fascinating is the word that Lauren Virgo uses to describe Aiken County's past.

Her job as the executive director of the Aiken County Historical Museum has given her the opportunity to "discover all the hidden history that I never realized was here," Virgo said. "It's something to me that has been very eye-opening.

"Our community has a lot of depth to it," she continued. "Movers and shakers were here — the people who pushed for voting rights and who pushed for racial equality. There also were people who pushed for the development of our land and bringing in new industries. It's really an intriguing history to delve into."

Following are five little-known highlights from bygone days that Virgo believes are the most interesting:

—No. 1: The town of Wagener was once nicknamed Pinder Town. Pinder is another word for peanuts, and the soil around Wagener grew some of the best pinders around.

—No. 2: Before it could complete its trip to Hamburg, the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road company's first train engine, which was called the Best Friend, exploded in 1831. Parts from the Best Friend were used to build a new engine — appropriately titled the "Phoenix." When the Charleston-to-Hamburg railroad was completed in 1833, it was the first railroad in the country to use steam-powered locomotives to haul rail cars.

—No. 3: The last private owner of the Hope Diamond lived in Aiken as part of its Winter Colony. Evalyn Walsh McLean hid the 45.52-carat diamond around her house and let her party guests seek and find it. She also had a custom collar made so that her dog could wear the diamond for a party.

—No. 4: An entertainment and swimming venue in North Augusta called the Palmetto Park and Pond hosted jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Cab Calloway from the early 1930s until 1941. A Palmetto Park and Pond attendee could have watched Louis Armstrong and his band perform for just 85 cents in 1941.

—No. 5: The mill workers of Graniteville, Langley, Bath, Clearwater and Warrenville were paid with money that was minted by the mill system. The paper scrips were called "loonies," and the coins were called "bugaloos." The money was good at stores that were owned by the mill systems.

Did you know?

—Did you know that the Aiken County Farmers Market is the oldest county farmers market continuously operating in the same location in South Carolina? It opened in 1954.

—Did you know that there are 46 counties in South Carolina, and Aiken is the fourth largest by land area?

—Did you know that Aiken County is the home of the oldest polo field in the nation — Whitney Field in Aiken — that has been in continuous use? The first game was held there in 1882.

—Did you know that Aiken County has 10 incorporated towns and cities? They are: Aiken, Burnettown, Jackson, Monetta (half in Aiken County and half in Saluda County), New Ellenton, North Augusta, Perry, Salley, Wagener and Windsor.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting