A local man has found a piece of history that offers a glimpse of what life was like in Aiken more than 140 years ago.
Don Winslow, of Aiken, has a copy of the New York Tribune from July 5, 1869 that includes an article from a reporter who traveled through Georgia and South Carolina. Aiken was one of his or her stopping points.
The article, located on the second page, includes no byline but ends with the initials “N.C.M.” The article describes Aiken as a town of “respectable size” with “comfortable, and some tasteful, dwellings.” Apparently, there were large vineyards that were spread several miles in the Aiken area in 1869, and the reporter spent some time exploring them, as well as several orchards.
Aiken County Historical Museum Elliott Levy was quite impressed with the condition of the paper. Still intact and not much of the ink faded, the paper's tiny print tells stories from around the world. The newspaper, which only cost 4 cents, squeezed more than a dozen stories on the front page including articles about the Cuban Revolution, a treaty between Belgium and France and the Illinois State Agriculture Fair.
Levy said that the description the reporter gave about the Aiken area was pretty accurate from what he could tell.
“Aiken is 600 feet above tide water,” the article read. “The timber of the country is pine and a little hard wood. The soil is generally sandy with a clay subsoil near the surface and grass is rare.”
From the article, it seemed that the reporter enjoyed his or her time in Aiken, although he or she was not very comfortable with the summer temperatures.
“The heat was intense while I was there, but not inconvenient – cool nights are common, and it seems to me that they demand increased care for the patient,” the article read. “Still, as the ague is said to be unknown, no great injury may arise.”
Levy added that it was an interesting time frame for the article, especially since the Civil War had ended just a few years earlier. Levy wondered how this New York journalist was treated and if he or she was able to obtain information easily. Levy said the reporter was visiting at the cusp of change in the area.
This was a time when Hamburg existed, several years before a brutal massacre destroyed the town, and before Aiken County was officially established in 1871.
“It's a very interesting article,” Levy said. “It's a wonderful piece.”
Winslow quipped that he has an interest in “old stuff” and enjoys delving into history. He collects many artifacts that he finds, often on Ebay. He's found a Bible from the 1700s that belonged to one of his relatives. He also owns a Harper's Weekly from April 1865 with a depiction of the Battle of White Pond.
“I think it's just neat to hold a piece of history in your hands, especially a piece that you can relate to somehow,” Winslow said. “And once in a while, you find a gem like this.”
Amy Banton is the County reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the publication since May 2010. She is a native of Rustburg, Va. and a graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman's College.