Aiken County ‘Poor House’

Photo By Katie Binion The only grave marker in the cemetery of the ‘Poor House’ identifies Mary D. Wheeler. Her marker appears to be homemade and a nail was used to engrave her name and a message, according to Cynthia Hardy, a member of the Aiken-Barnwell Genealogical Society.

A county home, commonly referred to as the “poor house,” was built on what is now the Northside of Aiken almost 50 years after the City of Aiken was established. For nearly 60 years, the home provided assistance to those in need.

The county home opened in 1886 and offered care, food, clothing and other necessities for countless people.

“It was originally a home for all ages,” said Cynthia Hardy, a member of the Aiken-Barnwell Genealogical Society. “It was a place to go when they didn’t have anyone to help.”

The exact location of the home is not known; there are no longer any original buildings on the property.

The location is thought to have been located off May Royal Drive, near what is now the Lower Savannah Pre-Release Center on Wire Road, according to “Aiken County Poor House Records 1886-1927,” a booklet written by Hardy.

Hardy’s maternal great-grandfather, George Widener, lived at the home for a short period of time.

“My great-grandfather lived in the house,” said Hardy. “No one ever talked about it, and I wanted to know.”

Hardy accessed the South Carolina Department of Archives and History in Columbia and found the original book with the records from the County home.

“I learned all kinds of things,” said Hardy.

Hardy compiled the information that she found, along with information provided by the daughter of the last superintendent of the home, Mary Moyer.

“Moyer was 12 years old when she went to live at the site. Instead of calling it the ‘poor house’ they called it the ‘Old Folks Home,’” according to Hardy’s booklet.

Moyer’s father, Lee Cook, was the superintendent of the home until he died in 1948.

Hardy documented Moyer’s memories as they visited what is believed to be the location of the county home. Moyer recalled that it was a “long building with a kitchen where the races were segregated with the whites on one end and blacks on the other.”

There was also a chapel “in front toward the road.”

On May 20, 1938, the Aiken Standard and Review published an article stating the future of the county home.

“Mrs. Wilhelmina Moody, director of the Aiken County department of Public Welfare is endeavoring, along with other county welfare officers, to have the county home closed not later than the first of July,” the article reported.

The county home was closed at the beginning of July. However by 1940, the Aiken County grand jury recommended the Aiken County Home be reopened. The home was eventually reopened and remained open until 1948, according to Hardy’s booklet.

What ever happened to the county home is still uncertain. Hardy once heard that the buildings were burnt as a part of training exercises conducted by the fire department.

Several members of the Aiken-Barnwell Genealogical Society traveled out to the possible location of the county home.

“We didn’t find any remnants,” said Hardy. “But we felt like we were in the right area.”

The location of the cemetery where the Caucasian residents were buried was discovered, but there is only one known grave site.

“There is only one marker,” said Hardy. “It is made out of homemade cement. It appears a nail was used to etch the name in it.”

The lone marker identifies Mary D. Wheeler, 1848-1928. According to an Aiken Standard article, it is thought that Wheeler’s husband, James, is buried next to her because of the indentation next to her gravestone, though his supposed grave is not marked.