Hopelands Gardens is a beautiful 14-acre garden located a few blocks from downtown Aiken. The property boasts many varieties of local flora and is known for its enormous and elegant oak trees. The estate was once a farm in the nineteenth century; when Charles Oliver Iselin and his wife, Hope, purchased the property in 1897, it was converted into an Aiken oasis for the wealthy New York couple who had previously spent winters in Aiken, usually renting Rye Patch for their visits.
The Iselins were a sporting couple who brought their love for Thoroughbred racing to Aiken, considered the Horse Capital of the South. They were also noted philanthropists, both in their home state of New York and in Aiken. For a time Hope Iselin ran the Martha Schofield School in Aiken, established to educate African American girls. The couple also founded the Aiken Hospital and Relief Society in 1917 and also commissioned the Old Aiken Hospital, built by African-American contractors McGhee and McGhee.
Charles Oliver Iselin died in 1932, and Hope Iselin continued serving the communities she loved until her death in 1970. She bequeathed her estate to the City of Aiken; however, she allowed the gardens to be opened to the public in 1969, prior to her death. Paths shaded by ancient oak trees wind through the many gardens, grassy fields, ponds, and wetlands, allowing visitors to get lost in the natural beauty of Hopelands.
‘The Dollhouse,’ seen above, is a popular attraction at Hopelands Gardens. It was the former playhouse and schoolhouse of the Iselin children. Mrs. Iselin famously ordered it straight from the Sears & Roebuck catalog in the early 1900s, and it still stands today. The Aiken Garden Club Council now uses it for meetings and decorates it for the Christmas holidays. Other attractions in the gardens include the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and the Carriage Museum (pictured below).
Historical Pictures of Hopelands House
These photos from the Museum of the City of New York show the house at Hopelands, owned by Mr. and Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin, before it fell into disrepair and was torn down.
More Pictures of Hopelands Gardens
The Aiken Standard Series on Hopelands
This is a three part series, including an ending reflection, on the past, present and future of Hopelands Gardens. These article ran in the newspaper, Aiken Standard.
This is a first in a three-part series by Emily L. Bull regarding Hopelands, the 14.2 acre estate deeded to the city of Aiken following the death of its owner, Hope Goddard Iselin, April 5, 1970.
Hopelands – Past
The Hopelands of the past is a way of life that exists only in stories and in the memories of those who knew and loved the late Hope Goddard Iselin. The home, designed by Frank Hoppin, was built at the time of her marriage to Charles Oliver Iselin in 1894. In its 76 years, Hopelands has entertained royalty and commoners in grand style. There were always massive arrays of flowers in the house grown in the garden and greenhouse by Alfred Currie, a landscape gardener and florist who maintained the gardens for 34 years. “In fact, Monsignor used to comment that part of the joy of coming was the beautiful flowers on the table.” Mrs. Mary Roberts said referring to the Rt. Rev. Monsignor George Lewis Smith of St Mary Help of Christian Church in Aiken. “The home was one of gracious living,” Monsignor Smith said. It was furnished largely with 18th century English furniture or reproductions of that period. Furnishing included many family pieces from her home in Providence, R.I. Her father, of whom she seemed particularly fond, was a Greek scholar, spoke fluent Greek, and was chancellor of Brown University and president of the Providence National Bank. She took great pride in the prints from the days when Mr. Iselin sailed in the American Cup. It was evident that Mrs. Iselin loved beautiful mirrors. She liked bright colors. She liked to read and her library contained many leather bound books. mostly biographies. Bedrooms were simply and nicely furnished in muted colors. “I used to drop in for tea or lunch.” said Mrs. David Lows, a close friend. “She always loved that. She was most hospitable!” “Tea was served in the morning room,” related Walter Plunkett, who began to be invited to Hopelands when he was in his 20’s. Descended from a shipmaster which derived much wealth from the China trade and the clipper ship years that followed. Mrs. Iselin had an excellent cellar of vintages, including Madeira which had come around the Horn in clipper ships. Sunday luncheons were a favorite tradition at the Iselin home. Former Gov. Jimmy Burns was guest of honor at one of the last ones. Even luncheons were always very formal. The table was apt to be set with Italian pottery decorated with spring flowers in colors pink and blue and white. The affairs were always sit down. The first course might be Eggs Benedict followed by roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. There was always a lavish dessert such as Bavarian Cream. Dinner parties were always black tie. The guest list might include from 14 to 24 people. The dinner parties most remembered are those in honor of Sir Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, her trainer. Dinner entrees were likely to be a saddle of lamb or fillet of beef. The china was simple and more elegant in the evening. Place cards were sometimes used, but more often that not, she would stand and recite who was to sit where. Candlelight was abundant. Music was never a part of the entertainment in the Iselin home. “She was great on most anything,” said Mrs. William Post, referring to Mrs. Iselin’s ability as a conversationalist. Horse racing and yachting were keen interests, but she also followed politics. and seemed to be able to discuss anything. She never dwelt on the past. “She would rather discuss what was on t.v. today,” Plunkett said. Many have observed that she preferred the conversations of men to those of women. Annually Mrs. Iselin brought together year round residents and members of the winter colony for a party after the Aiken Trials. In late spring she always gave a large tea party following the last polo game of the season. Although she preferred the yard to the house. she always entertained indoors. She loved wildlife and hunting was an anathema to her. She enjoyed her pets, most of which were dachshunds. “She was the last of the Victorians,” John Busch. Aiken Standard staffer who has known many winter residents. commented. The Hopelands of the past is but a pleasant memory.
This is the second in a series by Emily Bull regarding Hopelands, the 14.2-acre estate deeded to the City of Aiken for a public park following the death of its owner. Hope Goddard Iselin, April 5, 1970. Staff Photos by Emily Bull.
Hopelands – Present
You have an eerie feeling driving into an estate you have always wondered ‘about from the outside, and knowing that you are the only human there. You circle through most of the driveway pattern before you finally park almost at the front door. A few azaleas break the sameness of the green grass and spreading oaks. You are surprised to see the grayed paint on the house brightened by shiny royal blue shutters. Some windows are bare, others are framed by heavy draperies. You go to a blue door and see a sign that remains from past days, “If no one answers, kindly go to the back door.” There is no one to answer, not even a piece of furniture inside to bid you welcome. You walk around the side of the house to the garden paths that are so often photographed. For the first time, you are fully aware of how enormous the house is. One of the many empty bird feeding stations reminds you that Mrs. Iselin was active in establishing Aiken as a bird sanctuary. It’s uncommonly quiet. It’s hard to believe you are so close to Whiskey Road. On the right of the path is the dog cemetery where the beloved pets of Mrs. Iselin are buried. You walk on the veranda looking in windows. The white paint on the interior is peeling. The paneling and marble mantle in the drawing room are exquisite. The rooms are not as immense as you might imagine from the size of the exterior. One window is open and there is a chilling air coming from the house that has been vacant for many months. It appears that Hopeland’s designer gave great attention to detail. Even the iron railings beside exterior steps are decorated with brass finials. The greenhouses where Mrs. Iselin used to sit for hours talking to her gardener, have been largely taken over by clover and dandelions. A few pots of English ivy remain. A few scattered tulips and narcissus seem to bloom in vain; so few will enjoy their beauty this spring. You walk back through the garden, enjoying the many pieces of statuary that guard the paths. The name of original designer of the gardens has been lost in time. Perhaps it was Mr. Iselin or Mrs. Iselin or perhaps they hired the services of a specialist. What is often called an Italian design garden becomes very English on the east side where the white blossoms of flowering tees over-hang a white bench and marble flagstone cuts a path through the grass. The dignity of the pebble and sand paths is blotted by small stakes dotted with red flags, a reminder that progress is about to ring down the final curtain on a by-gone era. Bird baths are frequent. Birds and people both must have enjoyed the quiet, shaded reflection pool guarded by concrete cherubs. You have often passed the iron gate on Whiskey Road and wondered what it was like behind that gate. Now you see it is flushed with azaleas. It’s so tranquil behind the serpentine wall of Hopelands. the world outside can almost be forgotten. But Mrs. Iselin didn’t forget. It was she and her husband who helped organize and equip Aiken’s first hospital. She was a co-founder of the Fermata School for Girls and a supporter of the Martha Schofield School and several civic projects. She was dedicated to national beautification projects. After 102 years of life, she bequeathed the beauty of Hopelands to those who live outside its walls. perhaps with the hope that the tranquility found there would inspire us to make the world outside a better place.
Hopelands – Future
This is the last in a three-part series by Emily L. Bull, women’s editor, regarding Hopelands, the 14.2 acre estate deeded to the City of Aiken following the death of its owner, Hope Goddard Iselin, April 5, 1970.
The Hopelands of the future promises to be an asset to Aiken. Plans for the future of Hopelands began in the summer of 1970 when the will of Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin was filed and she bequeathed to the “State of South Carolina, or such political subdivision or subdivisions thereof, for exclusive public purposes, or to such charitable corporation” her place in Aiken known as Hopelands. It was left to her executors, Sidney W. Davidson of New York and Robert H. L. Iselin of Providence, RI., to select the appropriate recipient. In September. 1970, the City of Aiken declared itself a political subdivision and requested that the trustees deed Hopelands to it to be used as a public garden. Mrs. Iselin’s executors agreed.
House To Be Torn Down
Davidson had a study of the house at Hopelands made and it was determined that it would take an astronomical sum to repair it to a usable condition. The deed therefore stipulated that the house be demolished. Q. Judson Fulmer, who served as superintendent of Hopelands for the last five years said, “It would cost $100,000 to repair it. I’ve patched patches and you know what that means.” Fulmer said the heating bill was $150 to $200 per week. He suggested it might take $20,000 a year to maintain the house. Roland Windham, city manager, reported that a dozen contractors from Augusta, Columbia and Charleston have been invited to bid on the demolition of the house, “The specifications are fairly stiff.” Windham said. “requiring that the demolition cause no damage to the grounds.” The bids will be opened April 19.
Renown Designer Retained
Robert E. Marvin, eminent landscape architect, has been retained to prepare a plan. a design, and specifications for Hopelands. His firm will handle the bidding for the improvement of Hopelands and oversee the work. Marvin has four people on his staff and expects to add two more this summer. “The first step will he to create a design and make a presentation to those concerned, outlining the cost and long-range plans for the area,” Marvin said. “I see no reason to go out of state,” Marvin said when asked about the bidding or the work to begin in late summer. “Furniture or lighting or some minor things may force us to go out of state, but most of it can be done in Aiken and South Carolina.”
Federal Funds To Assist
The Friends of Hopelands, a non-profit corporation created to administer the funds contributed toward the improvement and maintenance of the public garden. is headed by James D. McNair. Aiken has received a HUD grant of nearly $20,000, the first of five annual installments. A portion of this grant will be used to beautify the Central Business District and city parkways and $12.500 will go to the Hopelands fund. The city must match the funds. but this can include in-kind services (city labor). Some of the matching funds are expected to come from donations to the Friends of Hopelands organization. The amount of contributions designates the category of membership as follows: Friends — $10; Contributing Member – $25; Supporter – $50; Sustaining Member — $100: Sponsor — $500; and Patron — $1,000. Regarding an admittance charge to the gardens. McNair said the organization felt it might detract from the original intent of the gift. “Mrs. Iselin left it for the people to enjoy, he said. Garden visitors might be given the opportunity to make a contribution in exchange for a brochure prepared concerning Hopelands. “Aiken is very fortunate to have acreage of this size right in the city,” Mc-Nair added. “It will be a great attraction. I think it will compliment our parks and our parks should compliment it.” A small part of the grounds will be used as a nursery for the city parkways. The city has promised executors “to perpetuate a garden of outstanding excellence providing a quiet and peaceful haven.” In keeping with this, activities at Hopelands will be very limited.
Future To Be Tied To Aiken
The first step toward the future design of Hopelands? “We will just dream and dream and dream,” Marvin said enthusiastically. He and his staff will spend several days in Aiken getting acquainted with the spirit of the city and seeing what Aiken needs that it does not now have and seeing what forms of self-expression are not now available here. Marvin indicated the design for the garden enclosed by the famed serpentine wall would be tied to the history of Aiken. “It must be a part of Aiken, not a gem unto itself,” Marvin said. He foresees eventual walking trails and bicycle trails that lead to Hopelands. “But, of course.” he added, “this is a landscape architect’s dream.” At the turn of the century, someone dreamed of a beautiful garden. From that dream, came the Hopelands of the past. present and future.
TIME FOR REFLECTION AT HOPELANDS
Hopelands Ready For The Dreaming
You Are Asked To Participate In The Planning By EMILY L. BULL, Women’s Editor
The home of Hope Goddard Iselin has been torn down; the gardens have been platted by the city, and now is time to dream. The 14.2 acre estate was deeded to the City of Aiken for the purpose of becoming a public garden last year. What would you like to see Hopelands become? What would you like to see incorporated into its plans? “What we need now are ideas,” said Robert E. Marvin, eminent landscape architect from Walterboro. “It must be a part of Aiken, not a gem unto itself,” Marvin said earlier in the year. He and an associate, William Beery, were in Aiken yesterday to tour the city with City Manager Roland Windham and visit Hopelands. Aiken is not new to Marvin as he has visited it many times before. “I know Mrs. Salley,” he said. He couldn’t recall the occasion, but he visited Mrs. Iselin in her home several years before she died. “He may forget things like that, yet he has a great memory for the smallest details about a project.” Beery injected. Mrs. Iselin loved her gardens and the flowers from it were always amassed in her home. She loved wildlife and cherished her pets. Her life style was rather formal and sedate. It must be completely restful, quiet, not fussy,” Marvin said, and yet it has to carry some form of excitement. It must meet the needs of the community. There must be some dominant theme.” The city is bound through an agreement with the executors of the estate to maintain the gardens as a “peaceful haven for citizens and visitors.” Marvin and his staff will begin the design as soon as some ideas can be formed. It might be 60 days or more, or it might come in an afternoon. Marvin said. The actual work might take five or more years to complete. Marvin spoke to the Aiken Rotary Club Monday and asked members for their ideas about the garden. Several asked that all the plants be identified for visitors. One asked that it be lighted for enjoyment at night. Another asked for a body of water large enough to accommodate some kind of fowl. Another wanted to be able to hear birds and hear water. Other citizens have expressed the desire for a civic center to be located there. Mrs. Emmett Kauffman said It would be a happy solution for some of our problems and a nice setting.” The walled-in beauty that once belonged to a select few is now the property of each citizen of Aiken. It is your turn to dream and make your deal known. All ideas are welcomed and will aid in forming a permanent capsule of serene beauty for Aiken. Please jot down your ideas along with your name and address, label the envelope “Hopelands” and mail it to the Aiken Standard, P.O. Box 456. Aiken. S.C. 29801.