History of the Circles

Many of the parkways running through the heart of Aiken's downtown were originally planted as part of a beautification project with the goal of attracting visitors from the Lowcountry and money from the North, say local historians.

By the mid to late 1800s, the burgeoning town was a "show place" that would, in-time, lure the likes of Winston Churchill, the Vanderbilts and the Mellons.

Originally, the parkways sprouted small trees but little more.

"They were never as beautiful as they today," said Owen Clary, chairman Aiken County Historical Commission.

Before the flower beds and modern fountains, even before the shrubbery and small trees, Aiken's roads were wide and without medians.

"They wanted to allow six-horse teams to turn around without much trouble," said Elliot Levy, executive director of the Aiken County Museum. "That's an old adage that even out west the streets were wide."

It wasn't until 1834 that Alfred A. Dexter and C.O. Pascalis laid out the parkways that are now synonymous
with downtown Aiken. Aiken was then chartered the following year.

After the Civil War, Aiken recovered quickly and by the 1890s, the money was coming in and Aiken was becoming a place for the rich and famous and high society, Levy said. "It had to be fancy."

Aiken also attracted wealthy Charlestonians.

More than a hundred years later, much of early Aiken has been preserved. Hitchcock Woods is still an equestrian haven, Antebellum homes still line Colleton Avenue and the parkways still add to Aiken's charm and, admittedly, to a driver's confusion.

Most residents refer to the parkways as squares and circles, but Clary points out that the circles are really just squares with round retaining walls or fountains at the heart.

But even getting around those "circles" and "squares" makes for a unique Aiken experience.

"It's the only town in South Carolina where making a left on red is at times allowable," Clary said. In order to help motorists navigate around the parkways, City Solicitor Richard Pearce recently devised a rhyme - "Circle go, square no."