The Hitchcock Woods was originally part of a larger tract of land purchased by Thomas Hitchcock and William Whitney in the 1890s. Later, in the 1930s, the Hitchcock Foundation was formed to preserve, protect and maintain the remaining acres of the original tract for the benefit of the general public and future generations.
The history of Hitchcock Woods is inseparable from the glamorous history of Aiken as a health resort and “winter colony” for wealthy families from the northeast with names such as Hitchcock, Whitney, Vanderbilt, Grace, Knox, Post, Goodyear, Eustis, Bostwick, Dolan, Astor and Pinkerton. Attracted by Aiken’s temperate climate and loamy soils, these prominent families built magnificent homes in Aiken to house their families, staff, dogs and horses during the winter months.
Arriving by private railroad car at the beginning of the season, the winter colonists spent their time in Aiken playing golf, court tennis, and bird hunting. They were also accomplished equestrians, polo players and avid foxhunters. Aiken provided the perfect setting for the sport of foxhunting thanks to the lush longleaf pine ecosystem that covered 95% of the southern landscape at the time.
In the late 1890’s, the Aiken Hunt was established as a beagle pack to hunt live quarry over the 8000 acres purchased by the Hitchcock’s and the Whitney’s (which is why the livery colors of the Aiken Hunt staff are green, the traditional color for beagle pack hunts, rather than red.) In 1916, Louise (or “Lulie” as she was called by her friends) Hitchcock hosted the first the annual Aiken Horse Show in the Woods, a tradition that continues to this day.
After the First World War in 1919, Lulie Hitchcock converted the Aiken Hunt to a drag hunt, where the hounds follow a manually-laid scent instead of chasing a live fox. The Aiken Hounds (as it is now known) still gather at Memorial Gate in the Hitchcock Woods on Tuesday and Saturday from October through March for an exciting couple of hours of sport and fellowship. It is the oldest, continuously-operating hunt in the country.
After the death of Lulie Hitchcock in a fatal hunting accident, the Hitchcock family established the Hitchcock Foundation in 1939 and donated 1120 acres of the family’s land to be protected and preserved in perpetuity. In the years since, the Hitchcock Foundation (now the Hitchcock Woods Foundation) has overseen the purchase and donation of close to 900 additional acres that, added to the Hitchcock’s original donation of 1200 acres, comprise the Hitchcock Woods as we know it today.
Thanks to the thoughtful management and expertise of the Hitchcock Woods Foundation over the years, the Hitchcock Woods is now an established part of the historic, cultural, and scientific heritage of the State of the South Carolina and the nation. It continues to be a haven for hikers, equestrians, dog walkers, runners, bird watchers, nature lovers and history buffs today—fully realizing the visionary gift of the Hitchcock family in 1939.