Discover Aiken: Historic trolley tour offers an entertaining education

September 25, 2018

Carol Kiernan never gets tired of the City of Aiken’s historic trolley tour.

Whenever she has guests from out of town, she recommends the excursion to them and she also joins them for the two-hour ride in the red and green streetcar.

“Every time I go, I learn something new,” Kiernan said. “It’s wonderful.”

Her friend of more than 30 years, Martha Kirkcaldy, took the tour during a summer visit to Aiken and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“What I liked the best was all the little bits of information that I learned about lots of things” said the resident of New York’s Hudson Valley region. “I also got to see all the lovely homes and pretty flowers. Aiken is such a beautiful city.”

Tours are held year-around on Saturdays, from 10 a.m. until noon.

The trolley, which can accommodate up to 28 passengers, departs from and returns to the Aiken Visitors Center and Train Museum at 406 Park Ave. S.E.

Marty Bailey is among the guides who conduct the tours, and she believes their purpose is to provide an “entertaining education.”

While pointing out the sights to Kiernan, Kirkcaldy and others on a hot morning in July, Bailey spoke into a microphone as the trolley cruised around downtown and other places nearby before heading to Hopelands Gardens.

During its stop there, everyone got a chance to stretch their legs for about 30 minutes while strolling around the grounds and visiting the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum.

Then the trolley went to South Boundary Avenue, where the huge limbs of live oaks form a picturesque tunnel. It also rolled through the Horse District while passing the Aiken Training Track and the Aiken Horse Park Foundation’s Bruce’s Field, which is the site of Aiken’s spring and fall steeplechases.

“I like to tell them about Aiken, and I want them to appreciate our history,” said Bailey of the trolley’s riders. “We have so many stories in Aiken, and most folks don’t realize that when they come here.”

At first, Bailey talked about the farming community that developed in this area in the late 1700s. She also discussed the founding of Aiken in 1835 and the important role the construction of a railroad played in its establishment.

In addition, Bailey mentioned the Civil War era and the Battle of Aiken, which resulted in one of the Confederacy’s last victories.

The other subjects of Bailey’s presentation included the wealthy families from the Northeast who created the Winter Colony and helped turn Aiken into an equestrian center.

One of those Winter Colonists, Evalyn Walsh McLean, owned the Hope Diamond for a while.

“She would wrap it in a silk stocking and put it in her lingerie drawer,” Bailey said. “She put a special mounting on it so her dogs could wear it on their collars at dinner parties she threw for her friends. Then she would take the diamond and hide it on her property, and her friends would play ‘Find the Hope Diamond.’”

Many of Bailey’s tales focused on actors and other entertainers who have spent time in Aiken over the years such as Bing Crosby, Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman and Minnie Pearl.

When the trolley paused at Aiken’s former post office, which is on the corner of Laurens Street and Park Avenue, Bailey said: “The steps you see here are made of granite. When Fred Astaire was in town and came to retrieve his mail, he was never seen walking on these steps. He always danced up and down them.”

The cost of the historic trolley tour is $15 per person. For more information, call 803-644-1907.

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