Aiken County has reinvented itself many times during its more than 300 years of history. From the earliest farming settlements at Silver Bluff, the coming of the railroad, the establishment of the Winter Colony and the equine industry, the building of the Savannah River Site and the more recent development as a retirement area, and location of a highly-rated campus of the University of South Carolina, county residents have seized opportunities to explore new paths.
The Historical Museum is the place to experience the many facets of the county. Located in an historic building in the heart of the Winter Colony district, the Museum provides an insight into the county for adults and children by offering rotating exhibits, educational tours, and children’s exhibits.
Banksia is named for the Banksia rose and is actually two houses joined together on a 3.5 acre lot. The older section is wood and dates from 1840. The large brick section was built in 1931. While the rest of the country was reeling from the Depression, Richard Howe of New York paid $85,000 to build Banksia, which was designed by Willis Irvin. Mr. Howe was 61 years old at the time. Formerly a vice president of International Harvester, Mr. Howe was married into the Deering family. An avid horseman, Mr. Howe used Banksia as his winter home. Look for his initials above the door.
The house was sold by Mr. Howe’s daughter-in-law in 1951 for $40,000. During the 50s, while the Savannah River Plant was under construction, the 17,500 sq. ft. house was used as a boarding house. It has been used as a college campus on two separate occasions and was once the home of the public library. The Museum moved into the frame section in 1984 and, in 1989, occupied the rest of the building. Banksia has thirty-two rooms, fifteen bathrooms and a ballroom.
Permanent exhibits include county history, the story of Ellenton, education, ecology, and the Winter Colony PLUS an actual one-room schoolhouse and a log cabin from the 1800s. In addition, during each year, there are at least ten special exhibits.