Welcoming Boulevards Guide You Through This Charming Southern Belle
by Warren Grant
South Boundary is also known as the “Avenue of Oaks” because of the beautiful live oaks that line the street making almost a canopy above the street.
In 1833, the longest railroad line in the entire world stretched 136 miles from Charleston, SC, northwest to the Savannah River, just across from Augusta. The town that sprung up two years later around the river terminus of the rail line was named Aiken after William Aiken, the president of the South Carolina Railroad Company that built the lin
The new town’s welcoming boulevards were laid out by engineers in a perfect grid pattern with the lanes of several streets divided by broad and inviting park-like medians. Within a few years, the fledgling town grew in both size and in reputation as a healing getaway for wealthy Charlestonians, who rode the train to Aiken seeking refuge from the Lowcountry’s sweltering summer heat and the threat of disease. Aiken was on the map!
If the railroad was the first milestone in Aiken’s vibrant past, the second occurred in 1870, just five years after the Civil War (throughout which the town remained relatively unscathed). That was the year that Thomas Hitchcock, Sr., a wealthy northern businessman and one of the leading polo players of the day, and financier William C. Whitney established the Aiken Winter Colony, owing mainly to Aiken’s pleasant climate and yielding sandy soil, perfect for training their stables of thoroughbred horses and polo ponies during the winter.
Word quickly spread about Aiken’s Winter Colony, attracting scores of families like the Astors and the Vanderbilts, who built winter mansions and brought golf, fashion, refinement, and hundreds more pedigreed horses, cementing the town’s reputation as one of the premier equestrian centers in the country.
Today, Aiken is a charming Southern Belle of a city—historically steeped and culturally enriched. Accordingly, Aiken was just last year awarded both the “Best Small Town of the South” and “Friendliest Town in the South” by Southern Living.
Visitors to Aiken can experience a glimpse of the Gilded Age with a stay at the Rose Hill Estate, built as a “Winter” home in 1898 and covering a full city block downtown. Six of the estate’s original buildings have been elegantly reimagined as B&B accommodations, a special event space, and an opulent dining room. The five-acre estate’s lush gardens are legendary and a must-tour.
Another expression of elegant Southern hospitality is The Willcox, the acknowledged front porch of Aiken and a remarkable hotel, restaurant, and spa. The Willcox was voted one of the best hotels in the world, “whose grand white-pillared glory is as lovely and genteel as a rose on a lapel,” by one description.
One needn’t love horses to love a visit to Aiken, but it doesn’t hurt, as equestrian pursuits utterly inform the elegant town. Aiken plays host to every national competitive equestrian activity (mostly in the spring and fall and all open to the public), including steeplechase racing, Sunday afternoon polo matches, thoroughbred racing, eventing, dressage, hunter-jumper events, and carriage races. Horses even have the right of way on city streets!
In Aiken, you can tour the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame, or start your day very early with pancakes at the legendary Aiken Training Track. Have the Willcox pack you a picnic to take to the polo matches, or rent horses and take a trail ride in Hitchcock Woods, the largest urban forest in the United States at 2,100 acres. On Thanksgiving Day, there’s the annual Blessing of the Hounds followed by one of several fox hunts planned during the year.
The Aiken Trolley offers a fascinating two-hour tour of the town, but plan early as it runs just once a week on Saturday mornings. You’ll learn the rich history of Aiken, including such morsels as long-time part-time resident Fred Astaire lightly tap-dancing down the town’s post office stairs after retrieving his mail and the socialite who used to wear the Hope Diamond around town casually.
Part of the trolley tour travels down the stunning Avenue of Oaks on South Boundary Street. The oaks were planted through the 1880s, along with an additional 500 trees of varying species that today breathe life, beauty, and wildlife habitat into the broad, park-like medians foresightedly planned in 1835.
As evening approaches, duck down the street from The Willcox and discover The Alley. Once home to blacksmith shops and stables, The Alley boasts inviting watering holes like the Aiken Brewing Company and the Alley Downtown Taproom. The fare at the Whiskey Alley restaurant is unpretentious, yet sumptuous.
Regarded as a cultural hub in the Southeast, Aiken hosts a variety of arts events each year, most notably the weeklong Joye in Aiken Performing Arts Festival, a collaboration with the esteemed Juilliard School that brings in students, faculty, alumni, and other artists for performances and workshops, all open to the public. Plan for the 2020 event to be held next March
Aiken also has a thriving medical community through the Aiken Regional Medical Centers. And, the University of South Carolina-Aiken offers myriad continuing education programs fittingly, even some Equestrian Online Classes.
Located just minutes south of Aiken’s equestrian heart is Woodside, a private, 2,300-acre planned community affording graceful living, four golf courses—from Nicklaus to Fazio—bountiful amenities, and countless social groups and clubs to engage residents. Woodside is proudly one of only 12 Southern Living Inspired Communities in the Southeast. Plan a 3-day/2-night Discovery Package at Woodside.
Mount Vintage is a 2,000-acre community located just north of Augusta and Aiken. The centerpiece of the community is a 27-hole golf club and its clubhouse, whose historic core is a restored plantation house, circa 1840. The Mount Vintage Town Center and Athletic Club offer tennis, fitness, swimming pool, community garden, activity rooms, plus a genteel spirit of social engagement. Visit Mount Vintage.
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In the Ideal Living Spring 2019 issue, we included postcards from homeowners in the Travel Guide from various locations so you can get an idea of what it is like to live there. Below you can link to the full stories from the homeowners who shared their lives and experiences with our readers. We hope you will enjoy their tales of finding their ideal lives.
Rock Barn is not a community.., it’s a family. We’ve been here 12 years and it just seems like yesterday that we retired. We have new people who come and re-energize the community and make it so vibrant. I always say that Rock Barn is the place where FUN is always shining. Click here to read the entire story.
Mary Ann and Bill Knox, Rock Barn, Conover, NC
We bought here three years ago in August. We started off working and traveling to the Bluffs on the weekends. Then we decided the wanted to live this life all the time. We didn’t know how we would adjust to retirement. We haven’t gotten bored once. We have never known as many people as we do here. Click here to read the entire story.
The Clodfelters, The Bluffs on the Cape Fear, Wilmington, NC
“It’s like being in a resort at Medley at Southshore. The homeowners association does their best to keep us occupied with all kinds of activities on the calendar. It’s an active adult community that will have a 5-acre lagoon. This was a leap of faith for us. We knew this is where we wanted to live and that this was meant to be. Click here to read the entire story.
Earle Copes, Lennar Medley at Southshore, Tampa, Florida
Wait until a place speaks to you… I know the moment it happened for me and we have never regretted our move and never looked back. We lived in New Jersey about 30 minutes outside of Manhattan, and we went to an Ideal-LIVING Real Estate Show when we started looking. Click here to read the entire story.
Janet and Bob Gould, Callawassie Island, SC
West of the Mississippi
Bill and I bought at Glacier Club in 2010 for the summers. There is so mach to do there in the summer – we go hiking, and bicycling. We fish, swim, kayak and go horseback riding. Bill and I hike, play pickle ball and golf. The list goes on… Glacier is not only a community with amenities, it’s all about the people. Our life is very social. Click here to read the entire story.
Bill and Marina Siepiela, The Glacier Club, Durango, CO
“Three years ago in August of 2016 we sold our home just north of Greensboro, NC and moved to The Bluffs on the Cape Fear in Wilmington, North Carolina. At first we kept working and would just come down on the weekends. But then Bill (64) retired in April of 2018 and I recently retired,” said Lisa Clodfelter (62).
“I didn’t know how I would adjust. We haven’t gotten bored once. We have lived in neighborhoods before, but we have never known as many people as we do here. We enjoy meeting people. They all have their story…they are just great people,” coninued Lisa.
“We fell in love with pickleball and we now have a golf cart. It’s so easy to just text some friends to play pickleball or to play golf,” said Bill.
Lisa said,”We also love to go to the clubhouse on nearby Oak Island. You can even kayak in the lake in the neighborhood. We love to take our bikes to Southport and ride around to the great little restaurants.”
Some of their favorite restaurants are Fish Bites, the Pilot House, and Elijah’s in Wilmington, and the Chesapeake House in Myrtle Beach. In fact Bill loves the local oysters so much, they buy oysters by the bushel and cook them in a firepit in the backyard that backs up to the woods behind them.
Their family loves to come visit and stay for long weekends. It’s a good base camp for their two daughters who live in Raleigh and their nieces and nephews. They love their new home and plan for it to be the last home they own.
It’s like being at a resort at Medley at Southshore Bay by Lennar. Just outside of Tampa, Florida, you find a new active adult 55+ gated community that will have a five-acre lagoon by Crystal Lagoons®. The community will also offer a private clubhouse, tiki bar, and pickleball and bocce ball courts. If you’re ready to enjoy acres of a crystal blue waters, this might just be the place for you, just as it was for Earle Copes, and his life partner June.
“ My partner June and I have been together for about 20 years. She and I had houses across the street from each other. After her husband died, we eventually started seeing each other and have been together ever since. We thought we wanted to be in the mountains, but all of our children were in Florida. So, we knew we wanted to be somewhere in this general area.
“We saw a TV commercial about The Lagoon in Wesley Chapel by Lennar, and we saw the Southshore Bay project in June of 2018. But, at that time we had five houses between the two of us (two houses in Plant City and three cabins in the North Carolina mountains). I put my house in Plant City and a cabin in the North Carolina mountains on the market and put a $5,000 deposit on the Southshore Bay. Fortunately, we closed on both houses in October 2018. And, we only have one cabin left to sell.
We chose a home model directly across the road from the lagoon. The homes have a mediterranean look with clay tile roofs.Our new 2,350 sq.ft. smart, energy-efficient house came with all the appliances, an Alexa to turn the lights and televisions on and off, and WI-FI is part of the homeowners association. I can’t believe our electricity bill is only $85 a month. All of the landscaping was done with the house. And, all of the exterior maintenance is taken care of by the HOA.
“June and I are in our 70s. We like the idea of having all of these amenities and to be able to socialize with our neighbors. We are big fans of the neighborhood and fans of Lennar. It will be like living in a resort. It was a big leap of faith for us,” says EarleCopes.
Earle and June moved in October and couldn’t be happier watching the community grow up around them and enjoying the area. They are self-professed foodies and go to Tampa once or twice a week.
Located near Vero Beach on the Indian River, the gated community of Oak Harbor welcomes residents aged 55 and better to live in this wellness-focused oasis. We had the pleasure to speak with one of their oldest residents who has truly lived the Oak Harbor lifestyle for 20 plus years. Emily Yawn, a lovely 95-year-old lady originally moved to Oak Harbor with her husband in 1998, where they built a home. Both New Orleans natives, they moved to Miami about 40 years ago, and when it came time to retire, they decided that Oak Harbor was the place for them.
After her husband passed, Emily moved into a condo for about 15 years, then just recently moved into the assisted-living housing at Oak Harbor. It’s perfect for her as she has been able to maintain all of her friends. As part of their concierge services, every night Oak Harbor sends a car for her and drives her to dinner at the club where Emily dines with friends. Emily insists that the 42,000 square foot clubhouse has the best food in Vero Beach. And, it’s no wonder. Their executive chef, Dean Evans, has who Vero Beach’s Top Chef Award twice.
“I’m just as busy as I ever was. It’s just nice now to have someone look after me if I need it.” Emily plays bridge almost daily and is very involved in procuring speaker for various organizations and clubs within Oak Harbor.
The Oak Harbor Wellness Program recently expanded to include concierge-like services. They provide varying levels of membership where your quality of life is enhanced with customized physical fitness programs including strength and flexibility training. They also have golf clinics to improve your game on the Joe Lee-deisgned executive golf course. This members only golf course is a golfer’s paradise.
You can enjoy a life where you are surrounded by beautiful landscaping and maintenance-free living. Oak Harbor even offers daily housekeeping services. Their concierge services handle on-site business services, and even offer chauffeur-driven sedans to make everything easy and convenient.
Emily says, “Oak Harbor is a special place. I feel very much at home. We have people here from around the world. You can be as busy as you want. I’ve never seen anyone here who wasn’t happy!”
In 2010, Marina and Jim Siepiela purchased a villa at the Glacier Club in Durango, Colorado. Two years later they built a vacation home there. “Although our primary home is in Dallas, TX, we generally spend from Memorial Day through September in Durango, as the fall color is breathtaking. And, we spend more than a month in the winter to enjoy all of the winter sports like skiing and snowshoeing,” says Marina.
“There is so much to do there in the summer — we go biking, and bicycling. We fish, swim, kayak, and we go horseback riding. Bill and I hike, play pickleball and golf, and the list goes on and on.”
“Glacier is not only a community with amenities, it’s all about the people. Our life is very social. We actually have more friends in Colorado than we do in Dallas. We like to travel and take 10-day-vacations with a group of people from Glacier Club.”
Both Marina and Jim are avid golfers and enjoy the award-winning Valley and Mountain golf courses at Glacier. They also travel to play in destinations like Ireland, Cabo San Lucas, and Pebble Beach.
With fabulous views from their 5,000 sq. ft. environmentally-friendly modern mountain home with floor to ceiling windows and telescoping doors at Glacier Club, the Siepielas enjoy their lives to the fullest.
“If someone is looking for a nice social life or to live outdoors, Glacier Club is the place to be.”
“Choosing a place to retire to is a lot like choosing a college. I knew the moment it happened for me and we have never looked back. Wait until a place speaks to you. If you are lucky it does, and it doesn’t take long,” shares Janet Gould.
The Gould’s first bought their home in South Carolina’s Lowcountry in 2004. They were living in Morristown, NJ just outside of Manhattan. As they were still both working, they travelled between their home in Callawassie and the one in New Jersey. The more time they spent on Callawassie Island, they wanted more time there. Eventually when they retired, they moved to Callawassie permanently.
“Although I enjoyed life in New Jersey immensely, I knew I never wanted to scrape another windshield again,” said Janet. “When Bob was commuting to work every day, his friends were the spouses of my friends. Now he has more friends than he ever imagined possible. We are busy from 6:30 in the morning to 8:00 at night.”
Janet continues, “It’s just so much fun!! Our golf course is amazing and so is the tennis facility. We’ll put our amenities up anyone’s, but the best part is the people. The people are so generous with their time and their money.”
The Gould’s both serve on several boards including the “Friends of Callawassie” helping with fundraising and Bob serves on the finance committee. Both of them have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity. Janet says you get more out of it that you put into it. They are also members of the Beaufort Shag Club, which enables the Gould’s to get to know some of the people who grew up in Beaufort, SC. Callawassie is equidistant from Beaufort and Bluffton, SC, so once or twice a week the Gould’s venture out to dinner in the area’s wonderful restaurants.
The Gould’s even travel a couple of times a year with friends from Callawassie Island. Just to name a couple, they have been on a river cruise from Lisbon to Barcelona and travelled from Istanbul to Athens. “We learn so much about history. It just blew us away.”
Janet says, “We love to play golf and tennis, and travel with our friends. In my golf group, have three rules: You have to laugh at yourself, laugh at someone else, and stop dead in tracks and say how lucky we are…”