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socaguy

Aiken

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I thought it would be nice to start an Aiken general thread. I was driving through the town a few days again and (although i have been to Aiken many times), couldnt believe how alive, festive and large the downtown area is. No skyscrapers, but tonnes of cool shops, cafes,boutiques, art galleries, etc. The city is also highly landscaped and most of its streets are divided by very wide medians. The city seems to be growing as well, as the "newer" part of town, with all the big-box stores and mall seems to be mushrooming. Anyone else here ever get the opportunity to get to Aiken? Its definately worth it for a smaller-medium sized city in South Carolina.

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When my dad was in the Army Reserve, we used to go all the time (the Army Reserve building on Whiskey Road). Aiken always seemed like a cool place to me, being located in a 325,000+ resident metropolitan area doesn't hurt either.

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Here's a (lengthy) bit of Aiken history (some obscure) off the top of my head.

The city was chartered in 1835. The original plat for Aiken consisted of gridded streets 150 feet wide (one-way in each direction with a large median). It also called for the planting of trees/landscaping in the medians. The streets were all named for SC counties, so most county names are represented in Aiken's downtown area. The grid and the "park"ways are mostly still intact today.

Aiken's location is an interesting story. It came about during the planning/construction of the Charleston/Hamburg (or "Best Friend" Express) railway, which at the the time was the world's longest railroad. A key railroad engineer fell in love with the daughter of a plantation owner. In exchange for her hand, her father insisted that the railroad be rerouted to his property. That property is where Aiken now sits today, and a railroad (same alignment) is still active, adjacent to downtown. It runs through a ravine in the downtown area and is crossed by a lot of fun, rickety bridges ;)

The earliest industries were manufacturing and mining (kaolin). The first big boost came around the 1880's when Charlestonian's began building summer homes in Aiken. They eventually attracted their wealther northerner friends who started coming in the winter, and the "winter colony" era began. The relics of this area are the ginormous mansions and horse district that encapsulate the southern side of downtown. Only one of the opulent hotels remains from this era (several others burned down).

The horse business also started around this time, and much like Camden, SC, Aiken still has a lot of horse training, racing, boarding facilities within walking/riding distance of downtown. In the late 1800's, Aiken was dubbed the "Polo Center of the World," and still contains the oldest continually active polo field in the country. Equestrian events are still commonplace in the city, and several major streets even have equestrian crosswalks.

Of course, the biggest boost to the city came in the 50's when the Savannah River Plant was built, helping to boost the city's 1950 population of ~7,000 to it's current 27,000. Much like in the 1800's, wealthy retirees are still one of the driving factors to the city's growth today. The city's wealth is highly-polarized, with downtown and areas south being quite upscale, and areas north of downtown are very poor.

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Random facts:

Population: ~27,000

MSA Population: ~511,000

UA Population: 335,630

Universities: USC-Aiken, Aiken Technical College.

Largest Employer: Savannah River Site

Tallest Non-Industrial Building: Aiken Regional Medical Center (6 floors)

Aiken contains one of the largest munipal protected forests in the country (Hitchcock Woods). The woods are easily accessible from the horse district and contain miles of riding/walking trails and other recreational opportunities.

Two Triple Crown horse-racing events are held anually (Fall and Spring) each attracting well over 10,000 guests.

Other major festivals: Aiken's Makin Craft Fair, Aiken Lobster Races

Most growth is focused on the southside and is residential/commercial sprawl type growth. The only notable recent downtown development is the Performing Arts Center/Washington Group office building/Festival center on Newberry St. There's also been a few small smatterings of townhomes/rowhomes in downtown.

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It should be noted that Aiken is included in Augusta's Urban Area, which explains the large number there. I think we concluded that Aiken County's share was around 66k.

SRS is now called the Savannah River National Laboratory I think.

I find it interesting that AKien would have designated 1 way streets before the advent of the automobile.

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Here's a (lengthy) bit of Aiken history (some obscure) off the top of my The city was chartered in 1835. The original plat for Aiken consisted of gridded streets 150 feet wide (one-way in each direction with a large median). It also called for the planting of trees/landscaping in the medians. The streets were all named for SC counties, so most county names are represented in Aiken's downtown area. The grid and the "park"ways are mostly still intact today.

I've always considered the street names (after SC counties) to be the coolest thing about DT Aiken.

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I find it interesting that AKien would have designated 1 way streets before the advent of the automobile.

Good point, and I'm uncertain as to whether the streets were originally one way, but the "park"way medians were definately part of the original plan.

I've always considered the street names (after SC counties) to be the coolest thing about DT Aiken.

I've always wondered how they decided which street got which name. The main east-west drag, US-1, Richland Ave., makes sense, since it's an important county and the road eventually runs to Columbia. The most important street downtown, however, is Laurens St., and while I have nothing against Laurens Co, I wonder what decision went into it being the main street. The 3 other primary N-S streets, Chesterfield, Newberry, and Pendleton also represent insignificant counties. And the wierdest ones are Charleston St., which is simply a short spur through the housing projects to connect the two sides of town, and Greenville St., which is so insignificant that I can't even picture what's on it!

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I find it interesting that they have other names which might be important for other reasons, but are not counties, but that appear to have no relevence to SC (eg Cumberland St.

Also, there is no Spartanburg St. Whats up with that? :P

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Interesting observations, Topher and Spartan. You'd think that Charleston St. would be a pretty significant thoroughfare.

Perhaps Cumberland St. was named after someone; surely Aiken has no ties to Fayetteville, NC, at least that we know of (the city is the seat of Cumberland County in NC).

Is there an Orangeburg St.?

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I honestly can't picture Cumberland St at all... it must not be a major street. There are several downtown that don't fit the naming convention. Park Ave is the #2 east west street, and Hayne Ave and "The Alley" clearly were added later in the town's history.

Orangeburg St. is a N-S street located east of downtown. It runs through a pretty run down area; warehouses and decaying homes. It doesn't cross the railroad tracks at Park Ave, but reforms on the other side to pass some more lower income homes. At South Boundary, Orangeburg becomes a (short) dirt road as it enters into the horse district and dead ends into Two Notch Rd (also a dirt road).

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The only thing I can think of is the name 'Cumberland' has been used extensively through southeastern history. But basically I was wondering about Cumberland St b/c it is a prominant Charleston street, since Aiken was a resort town for Charleston. Otherwise, I can only think of Cumberland Co. in NC or the early claimed territory for SC stretched westward through the southern clip of the Cumberland Mountains.

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Aiken is one of my fav small Carolina towns! The whole equine and polo thing. Such a cute place. Nice way of life in Aiken! Here are some random photos from a coupe of years ago.

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Thanks for the nice photos! I guess this would be as good a place as any to post some of my random shots as well when I get the chance this weekend.

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Yeah, Downtown Aiken reminds me of parts of Broad street too, except maybe the buildings are an additional story taller, but the parking is defintely similar. I would like to visit Aiken again, being from Augusta I've only visited only once or twice in my life sadly, and it's not that far from me. But anywayz, great pics, would like to see more and possibly some new construction pics of anything going on there. Also the new progress in the North Aiken developments would be nice to see also.

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Sweet... possibly very good news. Once again, The State outclasses both of our local newspapers in bringing the word of large-potential economic development....

Other news regarding the Sage Mill area (the area that the article references) is a very large planned community in the range of 5000-6000 homes as well as businesses, schools, offices, etc... The developer applied for something like $37 million in TIF financing from the county and was rejected but still apparently plans to move forward. This is easily the largest residential community announce in the county in years, and at build-out, will put the city of Graniteville on the map, and spill over into Aiken as well.

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Graniteville is already on the map, but for a bad reason unfortunately. I hope this development will help give the town more of a regional identity, at least in the Augusta-Aiken metropolitan area.

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Any new shopping centers going up lately? How's the Aiken Mall doing?

The article you posted a few weeks ago covers almost everything that's going on as far as retail centers are concerned. http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/11060...s_5615946.shtml

There's actually a surprising amount of new chain development occurring (all on the southside of course)...

Stein Mart, Bed Bath and Beyond, TJ Maxx, Ross, Old Navy, Talbots, Marble Slab, Firehouse, Checkers, Fatz Cafe,..., etc... (these are all from the article).

Also, if you haven't been back in a while, the new Kroger is a sight to behold (on Whiskey/Pine Log where the old JB White building used to stand). It's the single most imposing grocery store I've ever seen. The two new centers (Shoppes at Whiskey and Shoppes at Brookhaven) are fairly small, but good infill on formerly vacant land... The biggest story is the resurgence of Hitchcock Plaza (and the improved connections to Wal-Mart/Whiskey Road). The Mall is the same, no better, no worse. I'm really just hoping that they eventually put the mall cinema out of its misery and build Aiken a movie theatre that is worth going to... I haven't been to a movie in Aiken since they torn down the downtown cinema (still my favorite movie theatre I've ever been to...)

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Also, potential big news in today's Chronicle...

http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/12020...t_5863993.shtml

The county is looking to move out of the old Kalmia Mall and consolidate their offices. This would involve the building of a 160,000 sf office building (about the square footage of a Walmart Supercenter). They're negotiating sites, but the current proposal involves a $22 million building, downtown-adjacent, on Richland Ave on 6 acres. They won't build tall in Aiken (most likely no more than 3 stories), so expect this to be a MASSIVE building. Also, if they select a site in or near downtown, I would expect the design to be more urban and ornate in nature than a suburban location would require... (keeping fingers crossed on this one)

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The current county offices (main building) are shown here (other nearby sites are also being rented). The picture shows 4 floors, but its on a large hill, so it's 6 (I think) in the back. This is the main site they're considering for the new county offices.

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This is actually one of my favorite structures in town, so I really hope they intend to add-on/renovate rather than replace this building.

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