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Aiken SC

In Aiken, polo is just one way horses and humans interact. The polo culture is popular here, but all year, visitors and locals find ways to make a party of watching the horses and their riders.
Photo credit: City of Aiken Tourism

Welcome to Aiken. It is the kind of town people write books about. In fact, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Steven Naifeh and the late Gregory White Smith chronicled their restoration of a mansion in On a Street Called Easy, In a Cottage Called Joye. The book examines the lives of the sometimes tragic, wealthy people who built and inhabited Joye Cottage during Aiken’s heyday as a winter colony in the late 1800s. It also describes the town as they found it a century later – filled with friendly people who cherish Aiken.

Mike and Heather Pisano lived in Clinton, in western New Jersey, before moving to Aiken. “I am retired, but my wife is still working and when we decided we wanted to move south, she found a transfer to the Savannah River Site and we quickly chose Aiken as the perfect new hometown,” he explained. Western New Jersey also is equestrian country, and although they don’t own any horses, they enjoy watching these beauties at steeplechase events, polo games and sauntering around town.

“We fell in love with Woodside Plantation,” he said. “It’s the only gated community in town and every section is beautiful. We knew we wanted to build on the golf course and now we have a wonderful stone and brick home – surprisingly affordable in the south.” Both play golf, and they enjoy the amenities, including the club, pool and really friendly people. Woodside was recently named Southern Living’s newest “Inspired Community,” strong praise indeed.

Aiken is another plus with its charming downtown. They dine at Malia’s and TakoSushi often, and love The Alley, with its shops and ambience. The presence of USC-Aiken is another plus. “There is a great energy in Aiken and we love that.”

And there’s so much to love. The Aiken Center for the Arts currently has different galleries that rotate shows often. Classes abound for all ages, and unique shops feature local, regional and national artists.

Betsy Wilson-Mahoney is an artist who was born and raised in Aiken and loves the community. “I think Aiken is very supportive of all kinds of art,” she says. “When I attended college, I didn’t find another art student who wanted to return to their home town after graduating. They didn’t feel the support that I have always seen here – for visual as well as performing arts.”

As the Pisanos discovered, Aiken is quite an equestrian center. Polo is enjoying a renaissance here, with a number of polo clubs, training tracks and playing fields. The Aiken Polo Festival takes place in the fall. More than 50 amateur and professional polo players call Aiken home. As a result, the area has become the spring and fall center of polo on the East Coast.

And even though there’s much to engage them, sometimes, they enjoy heading for Hilton Head Island and the coast, only 2½ hours by car. That, and the weather (less humidity than New Jersey because of the elevation, Mr. Pisano says), add extra positives to their decision.

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