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Discover Aiken: Aiken's history began as railroad town

The construction of the Charleston & Hamburg Railroad in the 1830s was an unprecedented engineering feat. Its builder was the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company, and Aiken, a stop along the way, was named in honor of the firm’s president, William Aiken. Two railroad engineers designed the town, which was founded in 1835. Aiken had streets that ran north and south and avenues that ran east and west. There also were wide parkways planted with trees and shrubs. Even during its earliest history, Aiken was known as a health resort. Late in the 19th century, wealthy families from the Northeast and Midwest began flocking to Aiken, where they established the Winter Colony. While spending the coldest part of the year in their mansions near downtown, they enjoyed participating in equestrian sports such as fox hunting and polo. For the most part, however, Aiken remained a small, quiet community in a largely rural county. That changed with the start of the Cold War. In 1950, the Atomic Energy Commission revealed that a facility to produce the radioactive materials for a new weapon would be built south of Aiken near the Savannah River on approximately 250,000 acres. The plans for the Savannah River Plant brought thousands of people to Aiken. In the first wave were construction workers. Many scientists and others were needed later to carry out the various missions. Now known as the Savannah River Site, the facility is Aiken County’s largest employer. 

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