Parks, Playgrounds, & Natural Areas

Hopelands Gardens

Wrapped behind a serpentine brick wall, under a canopy of ancient oaks, deodar cedars and magnolias, is Hopelands Gardens. Bequeathed to the City of Aiken by Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin, this 14-acre estate was opened in 1970 as a public garden. Radiating throughout the gardens is a network of paths shaded by 100-year-old live oaks. It is believed that Mrs. Iselin planted the deodar cedars and live oaks which still grace Hopelands Gardens today. The lazy curves of the paths and the garden’s borders lead visitors throughout a wonderful variety of experiences sure to please people of all ages.

The Wetlands

Adjoining Hopelands Gardens and Rye Patch, the Wetlands act as a natural filtration system for rainwater run-off from Whiskey Road. The addition of the Wetlands in 1993 has added a tranquil marshland setting for all to experience. Enjoy a walk around the perimeter to see a variety of nature that includes plants, trees, ducks, turtles and fish.

The Dollhouse

This charming building is the former playhouse and schoolhouse of the Iselin children. Take notice of the center portion of the structure, as it is one of the first types of modular homes of the early 1900’s. It was ordered by the Iselins from a Sears & Roebuck catalog. Constructed with nuts and bolts, it stands sturdy to his day. The Doll House is now the home of the Aiken Garden Club Council and its reference library. It is open to the public every Sunday from 2:00 PM until 5:00 PM At Christmas, the council decorates the house in holiday fare and hosts an open house as part of the award winning “Christmas in Hopelands” program.

The Fountains

Follow along the former driveway leading past the Hall of Fame to the fountains. At the steps to the former home, pause to view the two greyhounds that guarded the home. As you enter, three magnificent fountains are placed in the foundation of the former Iselin home. You can just imagine life surrounded by this lush estate.

History of the Gardens

It is thought that prior to 1897, the property known as Hopelands was a farm or at least part of one. Aiken County Courthouse records show a deed recorded March 10, 1897 that conveyed approximately 15 acres to C. Oliver Iselin. The grantors were Frank L. Burckhalter and Elizabeth B. Bates. The purchase price was given as $ 1,650.

Mrs. Iselin’s father, Colonel William Goodard, was a Chancellor of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. The family spent winters in Aiken during the late 1800′s bringing their daughter, Hope, with them. In fact, the Goodards rented “Rye Patch” which is the estate adjacent to Hopelands on Whiskey Road.

Mr. Iselin’s parents settled in New Rochelle, New York and had interests in banking, textiles, railroads, and mining. Charles Oliver Iselin was the sportsman son of the family. From the late 1800′s through the turn of the century, with financial support from other members of his family, he was closely involved in the design, building, equipping, and sailing of American entries in no less than six of the internationally known “America’s Cup” yacht races.

Mrs. Hope Iselin was known in the United States and England as “the great lady of racing” because of her lifetime interest in thoroughbred horses. She maintained racing stables in the United States and abroad. Even into her 90′s, she made annual pilgrimages to England for the racing season there.

Oliver and Hope Iselin built their winter home in Aiken around the turn of the century. Mrs. Iselin began developing the gardens shortly thereafter. Although the family only spent winters in Aiken, she put love and care into creating an atmosphere of tranquility and beauty.
After her death in 1970 at the age of 102, Hopelands was bequeathed to the City of Aiken. The garden is designed as a peaceful haven of beauty for the enjoyment of Aiken’s citizens and visitors.

Hours of operation: 10am to Sunset

  • Stone and sand/dirt pathways through the gardens
  • Fountains located in the foundation of where Mrs. Iselin’s house once was located
  • Reflection Pool
  • Rock Fountain
  • Doll House / Home of the Aiken Garden Clubs
  • Oak Allee
  • Stage
  • Aroretum Trail with Cell Phone Tour
  • Labyrinth
  • Gazebo
  • Pond (no fishing or swimming)
  • Wetlands
  • 2 swings
  • 3 decorated “Horseplay” statues
  • Garden sites available for rental
  • 14 Acres
  • Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame & Museum
Hopelands Gardens and Rye Patch Reception Center Rules and Regulations for Photo or Video Sessions

1. A City of Aiken business license is required of all individuals or companies operating inside the city limits of Aiken. This must be obtained before making any reservations. You may obtain more information by visiting https://www.cityofaikensc.gov/business-licensing/ . If you have any questions or need more information, please contact Nathan Campbell at 803-642-7642 or ncampbell@cityofaikensc.gov.

a. If an individual is taking photos of family/friends and is charging a fee, the reservation fee and business license requirement apply.

b. If an individual is taking photos of family/friends and is not being paid for his/her services, no reservation fee is necessary.

2. Once you have obtained your business license, all photo or video sessions, whether for weddings, family photos, senior pictures, etc. must be scheduled through the Hopelands/Rye Patch Supervisor by emailing acoffey@cityofaikensc.gov or calling 803-642-7650. If you purchase a yearly license you will be placed on a service provider list that is given to customers who rent our facilities. This provides an opportunity to receive more business.

3. Photographers/videographers must make the reservation so your business license can be verified.

4. Photo or video sessions may be scheduled beginning at 10 am. All photo or video sessions must end no later than 30 minutes before sunset.

5. The grounds of Rye Patch are available for use during your scheduled photo/video session, however; access to the home will not be available.

6. The fee for a photo or video shoot is $15 for 2 hours. Additional hours are $15 per hour.

7. More than one photographer/videographer will not be scheduled to shoot at the same time.

8. You will receive an invoice after the photo or video shoot has been scheduled. Payment should be mailed to:

City of Aiken PRT Dept.
Attn. Hopelands Gardens
P.O. Box 1177
Aiken, SC 29802

Make checks payable to the City of Aiken. You may also provide payment over the phone with a debit or credit card, VISA or MasterCard.

9. You are encouraged to carry a copy of your receipt and a copy of their business license on your person in case you are requested to show it to staff.

10. Photographers with a valid reservation form have priority for all locations. Should you experience issues with someone who refuses to vacate an area, please follow the following procedures:

a. Show your reservation form to the person in your desired location and ask them to relocate.

b. If the person refuses to move, contact the Hopelands caretaker at 803-507-5569 or the Rye Patch caretaker at 803-349-6457 depending upon your location.

c. If contact cannot be made with the caretaker, contact the Weeks Center at 803-642-7631 who will try and make contact with the caretaker.

d. The photographer has the option of calling Public Safety, as a last resort, at 803-642-7620.