Aiken Railroad Museum celebrates National Train Day

May 13—A group of children and their parents gathered Saturday morning at the Aiken Railroad Museum to celebrate National Train Day.

The event featured four model railroads — a newly renovated 1918 Pullman car, a DCC model railroad representing rail travel in the 1950s, a standard gauge model railroad and a full-scale replica model of the Charleston to Hamburg railway.

The event also featured a giant Connect-4 game, facepainting, balloon animals, food trucks and live music.

Zaila Bermudez and her daughter, Charlotte, were among the people at the event.

Zaila said said it meant a lot to share National Train Day and a part of Aiken's history with her daughter.

"We've been here for 23 years and we never get to do things like this," Zaila said. "I'm glad we came out today."

Megan Pittman and her family drove from Orangeburg to attend the event. She said her father loved and her nephew loves trains, so when they heard about the event, they were determined to attend.

Samuel Ellis, railroad museum coordinator, said National Train Day was created and later abandoned by Amtrak but kept alive by various local museums to make the impact of the railroad on their communities.

"Aiken would not be here if it wasn't for the railroad," Ellis said.

The city of Aiken was founded in 1835 as one of the towns along the 136-mile South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company line from Hamburg — across the river from Augusta — to Charleston.

The South Carolina General Assembly chartered the railroad company in 1827 to make sure cotton shipments from the Upstate and Midlands would go through Charleston rather than through Savannah via the Savannah River and Augusta.

William Aiken Sr. — his son, William Jr., served as governor from 1844-1846 and as a member of the South Carolina House and Senate and the U.S. House — was the first president of the railroad company and the namesake of Aiken.

Soon after the city's founding, wealthy Charlestonians realized Aiken was an ideal place to escape the heat and mosquitoes of Charleston's summers. After the Civil War and before World War II, wealthy northerners used Aiken as a place to escape the winter weather of their home cities, thus forming the Winter Colony.

"They always talk about the Winter Colony but the question nobody asks is how does the Winter Colony get here," Ellis said. "That would be the Aiken-Augusta special that went through New York, Boston and Philly and brought everybody down."

Ellis said Aiken's horse culture also originates from the railroad. He said the horses were trained in the area but transported via special railroad cars to the area.

"The railroad really facilitated everything," Ellis said.

For more information about the Aiken Railroad Museum and Train Depot, visit VisitAikenSC.com or call 803-293-7846 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday.