by Susan Elder
Three sports a day – that was the ideal of the Winter Colonists who came to Aiken in the early 20th century – polo in the morning, golf in the afternoon and a hunt after dark. The Willcox Hotel history described it as “a hectic style of leisure.”
This year’s St. Thaddeus Home and Garden Tour on Saturday, April 16, features six homes in the Berrie Road neighborhood, part of Aiken’s Historic District I, in the midst of the sporting venues often preferred by those privileged folks, with golf and riding in one direction and polo in the other.
The Palmetto Golf course, founded in 1892 by Thomas Hitchcock, was a favorite spot for those golfers at the turn of the century, as it is today. Bounded by Hitchcock Woods, it’s not surprising that by 1930 the neighborhood near Palmetto was lined with homes of those sportsmen and women.
The homes, all owned by horse lovers, have one other thing in common – they are filled with light. Early residents came to Aiken to get away from cold, dreary northern winters, and even the early constructions had plenty of windows to let in as much light as possible. New owners have taken advantage of that. Although the windows may be modern, double-paned and insulated, the light still streams through.
Touring the Homes
Stop first at St. Thaddeus Church, 125 Pendleton Street, to purchase your tickets for the tour. Even if you have purchased your ticket in advance, be sure to visit St. Thaddeus Church and churchyard. The church was chartered in 1842 and the cornerstone of the existing building laid at that time. Visit the inside of church, and see the grounds with a tour led by Ed Mann, a parishioner and Civil War reenactor who has a trunkful of stories to share.
When you leave the church, drive to Mead Avenue and the grassy parking area next to the Green Boundary Club (another stop on the tour). Begin wherever you like – across Whiskey Road and along Berrie Road, or at The Balcony next door.
Several stables will also be open for this year’s tour. Shown here are stables at the Academy.
You might start at The Academy, named for the school that was built on this property in the mid-50s to house St. Angela Academy. St. Angela was established by the Ursuline sisters in the early 1900s as a private boarding school next to St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Park Avenue in downtown Aiken.
Though it’s close to town, the view from the Academy is quite peaceful.
When St. Mary’s grammar school came to that campus, the St. Angela High School moved to Berrie Road. When St. Angela closed in 1988 the building was turned into stables and later torn down. The 10-year-old home that stands on the site today is filled with light, with spacious bedrooms, a modern kitchen and bathrooms, and large closets. A long sunroom overlooks the pool, and beyond that is a tranquil view of the fields and Hitchcock Woods. You may even see a horse venturing from the stables next to the house, also on tour.
Crazy Creek, also known as Pine Grove, was built in 1928 for winter resident Jerome Keene.
Across the street is Crazy Creek, built in 1929. At one time the estate included the next door stables and carriage house which were later converted into a separate, private residence. These days Crazy Creek’s residents are local folks who made several changes to the home after they purchased it, adding a door between the living and dining room, and a wing off the kitchen to make space for a family room. There’s plenty of other kid-friendly space here as well. The couple’s three boys have their own study and den. To further welcome the sun, there’s a sunroom and a solarium that overlooks the large yard.
Henley House South
Next door, Henley House South, formerly called Green Shingles, is the sister home to Crazy Creek. The estate, which includes the home, carriage house and stables, remains much as it was in 1928 when it was completed. Though the structure of the house remains mostly unaltered, with large closets and oversized doors, the current owners have added their own touches with clever new additions and faux finishes. Early earthenware, Native American baskets, daguerreotypes of the family’s ancestors, and a variety of family heirlooms and international items are on display. And of course there’s an updated kitchen. The indoor pool and patio were put in by John Seabrook, a former owner. In the tradition of the “hectic form of leisure,” the stable houses several hunters and at least one mustang pony that are ridden frequently.
Berrie Patch was once home to Fermata School’s head- master and also housed the school’s in infirmary.
Berrie Patch, facing Whiskey Road, was once the infirmary and headmaster’s residence of The Fermata School for Girls, which stood nearby. It is now the home of longtime Aiken resident, Linda Knox McLean.
Linda’s parents met when her father lived at The Balcony and her mother was visiting her great-aunt next door at Sunshine House (now the Green Boundary Club). Another aunt (Dorothy Knox Goodyear Rodgers) lived across the street at Rye Patch and also owned the infirmary/headmaster Fermata School house. This is where Linda’s family stayed when they visited Aiken over holidays and in the summer. “It was actually divided in two – one side for the infirmary and one side for the headmaster, and it stayed that way until I moved in after my mother passed away a few years ago,” Linda said
The bedrooms on the infirmary side were Linda’s, her brother’s, and their nanny’s; tiny rooms, now perfect for guests. Linda has enlarged and updated the kitchen that now opens into a cozy den. Around the den walls near the ceiling you can see the names of all the horses Linda has owned. Like all the owners of the homes on the tour, Linda is clearly an animal lover. There are portraits of some of her favorite horses by George Ford Morris and many dog portraits. Catesby bird prints hang in the master bedroom.
Outside, there’s a parterre garden, and, thanks to the ice storm of 2014, an open expanse of trees that extends to Whiskey Road.
This ironwork is part of the distinctive balcony that gives e Balcony its name.
Across Whiskey Road from Berrie Patch sits The Balcony, one of Aiken’s most well-known properties, standing as it does on a main artery between the south side and downtown. You can reach the entrance from the “Kissing Gate,” mid-way in the wall to the right of Green Boundary. A host will direct you to the front of The Balcony. The Kissing Gate got its name because it is where Linda’s parents met and, as family lore would have it, shared their first kiss.
Seymour Knox Jr. built this home in 1928. Designed by Julian Peabody, a member of the Hitchcock family, The Balcony gets its name from the wrought iron balcony that faces south across the second floor. The surrounding gardens were laid out by renowned landscape designer Ellen Biddle Shipman. Downstairs, a sun-filled gallery links the front door to the living room. From the gallery you can see the pecky cypress paneled library that houses hundreds of books from the current owners’ collection, the patio and garden and the dining room.
There’s even a ping-pong room – now a guest bedroom. Other rooms in the servants’ wing were devoted to a specific purpose: the washing room, an ironing room, and even a flower arranging room. In the master bedroom wing, there’s a gentlemen’s dressing room and a sleeping porch with windows that once opened wide to let in a breeze in the days before air conditioning.
The Green Boundary Club/Sunshine House
The Green Boundary, once called Sunshine House, is now a private club open year round. (Photo courtesy of the Green Boundary Club.)
End your tour at Aiken’s historic Green Boundary Club, next door and through the kissing gate from The Balcony. Then called Sunshine House, it was designed by Willis Irvin in 1927 for William Zeigler, board chairman of the Royal Baking Powder Company. In 1956, a small group of Winter Colony friends got together and purchased the property for a private dining club. For years the club has served as a private club in the Aiken community and initially was only open from October through May. It is now open throughout the year.
You may tour the Green Boundary from 2 to 4:30 p.m.. While there, you can enjoy Strawberry and Cream Tea in the Green Boundary’s dining room, prepared by the women of St. Thaddeus, then shop at the Heritage Market, where you can find beautifully repurposed linens and other treasures, handmade by the St. Thaddeus ladies.
Tickets are $35 and will be available after March 14 at 3 Monkeys Gifts, 141 Laurens Street in downtown Aiken, Lamps, Shades and Things, 588 Silver Bluff Road, and the St. Thaddeus Church office, 125 Pendleton Street. Tickets are also available online at www.stthaddeus.org. For more information, call the church office at 803-648-5497.
Susan Elder is a former elementary school teacher and garden writer. These days she spends her time babysitting for her adorable granddaughter.