|Camellia japonica at Hopelands, Aiken, SC|
Scattered throughout the South are historic winter retreats of the Gilded Age where wealthy northerners have come to exploit, rest and play. Drawn by some salubrious attractions, the rich and famous have established enclaves for their pleasure and left their mark. One such is in the city of Aiken, South Carolina.
Aiken was incorporated in 1835 at the Savannah River terminus of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company's line, and named for the company's first president, William Aiken (1779 - 1831). As a seasonal resort for millionaires, it became home to the Aiken Winter Colony in the late 19th century. Among its well-heeled families were Vanderbilts, Harrimans, Astors, Pinkertons, Graces, Hitchcocks, Whitneys, Bostwicks, Eustis, Goddards and Iselins. The community was so popular that a direct rail line was established from New York to Aiken.
Life was tough for everyone during the Great Depression and World War II, but not so difficult for the Winter Colony residents that they couldn't establish two horse racing centers. The Aiken Mile Track was built about 1935 or '36 for training and racing trotters. Subsequent infield tracks were added for hurdle racing and steeplechasing. The Aiken Training Track was established in 1941 around what is probably the country's oldest polo field. No doubt the tracks contributed to Aiken's continued prosperity. Aiken continues to be a training ground for "the sport of kings."
The Winter Colony attracted the attention of William Goddard (1825 - 1907), a decorated Yankee Civil War hero from Rhode Island. After graduating from Brown University, he traveled internationally gaining experience in manufacturing and mercantile businesses, and carrying secret dispatches to American allies oversea. He and his brother Thomas established Goddard Brothers working as agents for textile mills owned by their uncles. Goddard Brothers grew to be an important management firm. William went on to become the president of Providence National Bank, and Chancellor of Brown University.
Goddard gained a reputation for his yachting prowess. He was a founding member of the Narragansett Yacht Club.
William Goddard bought property in the Aiken Winter Colony and named it Hopelands, like his other large estate in Warwick. Hopelands in the South was in a fine neighborhood. He was all about hope.
Rye Patch, the winter home of Edmund Pendleton Rogers (1882 - 1966) and his wife, Dorothy Virginia Knox Goodyear Rogers (1896? - 1980) was right next door. Even their names strongly hint of American enterprise and shoulder-rubbing with nobility. The Goddards often stayed with the Rogers when wintering in South Carolina. Goddard saw how much his daughter Edith Hope (1868 - 1970) enjoyed their stays, so he gave his property there to her upon her marriage to Charles Oliver Iselin (1854 – 1932). The New York Times effused “Hope Goddard Engaged to C.O. Iselin, Well-Known Yachtsman to Marry Heiress of Millions.”
Charles Iselin was a banker and a member of a wealthy family. He grew up sailing near Long Island, New York in difficult little boats prone to capsize. With that experience, he excelled to become "one of the greatest American Yachtsmen of his time, participating in and winning six consecutive America’s Cup races." No doubt, his love of sailing and more drew the attention of William Goddard, and his daughter's.
|Edith Hope Iselin|
Hope outlived her husband.
Sailing with Charles was not Hope's only sporting interest. She was also an avid equestrian and loved the "sport of kings." She supported horse racing in Aiken.
The home in South Carolina must have seemed like a cabin in the woods compared to her magnificent mansions up north, but she loved it. Hope took care to landscape properly with the influence of Frederick Law Olmstead, the architect who designed Central Park, Druid Hills in Atlanta, and other great American landscapes. Olmstead was the Iselin's personal landscape architect. She probably enjoyed watching guests from her porch enjoying her gardens. She could stroll easily to the her stables and equestrian venues.
If you visit, you'll see the old house no longer exists. It was razed according to the terms of her bequeathing the property to the City of Aiken. I asked a docent why. He had no idea, but opined that the home needed extensive repairs. Perhaps she wanted to spare the city the expense of fixing it. Her gardens remain.
With history in mind, you should visit Hopelands Gardens. The appreciation of a place makes it stand out in one's experience.
|Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum|
Right after after walking into Hopelands, you'll see the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum, "Home of Aiken's Racing Champions." Keep in mind it's not a memorial to all the great race horses of the world, but if you want to delve deep into the history of horse racing in Aiken, South Carolina this is your place. Housed in a former stable, it is truly amazing. Once you're drawn in, you will be ready to mount a horse, start looking for a bookie, or buy a souvenir.
|Live Oak (Quercus virginiana). Hopelands, Aiken, SC|
Hopelands is gracious. Wide paths curve beneath century-old live oaks and among impressive specimen shrubs such as camellias, hollys and tea olives. In summer, concerts are performed on a stage near one of the ponds.
|Performing Arts Center. Hopelands, Aiken, SC|
Strolling through the garden, one can't help but muse about what life must have been like here during the Gilded Age. Hope Goddard would be pleased to know that her gardens are still enjoyed by all who visit.
|Pyracantha. Hopelands, Aiken, SC|
|Pansies in terra cotta. Hopelands, Aiken, SC|
|Espalier arch. Hopelands, Aiken, SC|
|Hopelands, Aiken, SC|
|Greyhound sculpture. Hopelands, Aiken, SC|
|Pond and amphitheater. Hopelands, Aiken, SC|
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