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Founded in 1835, Aiken was named after William Aiken, the president of the South Carolina Railroad. It became part of Aiken County when the county was formed in 1871 from parts of Orangeburg, Lexington, Edgefield, and Barnwell counties.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has an area of 20.8 square miles (54.0 km2), of which 20.7 square miles (53.6 km2) is land and 0.15 square miles (0.4 km2), or 0.68%, is water.
Aiken has a humid subtropical climate characterized by hot, humid summers and cool, dry winters, but experiences milder temperatures throughout the year than the rest of the state. Precipitation is distributed relatively uniformly throughout the year, with mostly rain in the milder months and occasional snow in the winter. The coldest recorded temperature was -4 °F or -20 °C on January 21, 1985 and the hottest 109 °F or 42.8 °C on August 21, 1983.
Climate data for Aiken 5 SE, South Carolina (1981-2010 normals, extremes 1893-present[a])
There were 10,287 households, out of which 28.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.9% were married couples living together, 13.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.3% were non-families. 29.6% of all households were made up of individuals, and 11.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.34 and the average family size was 2.90.
In the city, the population was spread out, with 23.2% under the age of 18, 9.4% from 18 to 24, 25.5% from 25 to 44, 24.0% from 45 to 64, and 17.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females, there were 87.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 83.0 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $49,100, and the median income for a family was $63,520. Males had a median income of $51,988 versus $28,009 for females. The per capita income for the city was $24,129. About 10.1% of families and 14.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 21.0% of those under age 18 and 10.5% of those age 65 or over.
Between 1890 and the 1920s, many Jewish immigrants settled in Aiken. The Jewish immigrants were from Eastern Europe, including Russia and Poland. Many were from Knyszyn, Poland. In 1905, a group of Russian-Jewish socialists from New York founded a farming colony in Aiken County that was known as "Happyville". Adath (Adas) Yeshurun (Congregation of Israel) Synagogue was chartered in Aiken in 1921 and the cornerstone was laid in 1925. An historical marker was added to the synagogue in 2014, sponsored by the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina.
Aiken is governed via a mayor-council system. A mayor is elected at-large. The city council consists of six members. All six members are elected from single member districts.
Mayor: Rick Osbon
District 1: Gail Diggs
District 2: Lessie Price
District 3: Dick Dewar
District 4: Ed Girardeau
District 5: Andrea Neira Gregory
District 6: Ed Woltz
The municipality of Aiken was incorporated on December 19, 1835. The community formed around the terminus of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company, a rail line from Charleston to the Savannah River, and was named for William Aiken, the railroad's first president.
Originally it was in the Edgefield District. With population increases, in 1871 Aiken County was organized, made up of parts of neighboring counties. Among its founding commissioners were three African-American legislators: Prince Rivers; Samuel J. Lee, speaker of the state House and the first black man admitted to the South Carolina Bar; and Charles D. Hayne, a free man of color from one of Charleston's elite families.
Aiken was a planned town, and many of the streets in the historic district are named for other cities and counties in South Carolina, including Abbeville, Barnwell, Beaufort, Chesterfield, Colleton, Columbia, Dillon, Edgefield, Edisto, Fairfield, Florence, Greenville, Hampton, Horry, Jasper, Kershaw, Lancaster, Laurens, Marion, Marlboro, McCormick, Newberry, Orangeburg, Pendleton, Pickens, Richland, Sumter, Union, Williamsburg and York.
The United States Atomic Energy Commission's selection of a site near Aiken for a plant to produce fuel for thermonuclear weapons was announced on November 30, 1950. Residences and businesses at Ellenton, South Carolina, were bought for use for the plant site. Residents were moved to New Ellenton, which was constructed about eight miles north, or to neighboring towns.
The site was named the Savannah River Plant, and renamed the Savannah River Site in 1989. The facility contains five production reactors, fuel fabrication facilities, a research laboratory, heavy water production facilities, two fuel reprocessing facilities and tritium recovery facilities.
The Aiken Steeplechase Association, founded in 1930, hosts the Imperial Cup each March and the Holiday Cup in October, both races sanctioned by the National Steeplechase Association. This event draws more than 30,000 spectators.
Rose Hill Estate - Historic housing for overnight stay, weddings, reunions, meetings, and dinner parties.
In the late 19th century and the first part of the 20th century, Aiken served as a winter playground for many of the country's wealthiest families, such as the Vanderbilts, Bostwicks, and the Whitneys.
Pat Sawilowsky (b. 1930), past president of National Ladies Auxiliary of Jewish War Veterans; her father, Herbert B. Ram, owned and named Patricia Theater in downtown Aiken after her, and the companion Rosemary Theater was named for her sister.
The Southside is Aiken's southern portion, which strongly increased in development after the construction of the Savannah River Site. It now serves as Aiken County's premiere shopping district, comprising the Aiken Mall, multiple retail stores, and several restaurants. Two large residential communities, Houndslake Country Club and Woodside Plantation, have multiple golf courses within the communities. Many newcomers take up residence in either Houndslake or Woodside, but the most prestigious homes are in historic downtown Aiken.