The Willcox was built in the late 19th century for well-to-do Yankees seeking warmth, light and high society. Aiken was popular with the swells and dandies of the Gilded Age and they came in such numbers every winter that the town was called the "Winter Colony." Great dances were held and ballrooms glittered with candlelight. Old rivals, fiercely competitive but impeccably polite, settled their differences on the polo field. Grand picnics in Hitchcock Woods were laid out with silver, crystal and linen. Politicians, royalty and captains of industry often visited The Willcox.
The far-reaching reputation of The Willcox was built on its atmosphere, impeccable service and excellent cuisine. Famous guests included Winston Churchill, Harold Vanderbilt, W.R. Grace, Elizabeth Arden and Count Bernadotte of Sweden. Legend has it that Franklin Delano Roosevelt would ride his private train car to the back door and slip in quietly. The Prince of Wales was regretfully turned away for lack of space. And, The Willcox doormen, sentries of society and taste, assessed the shoes of arriving guests before allowing them inside.
In those days Aiken was known as the Newport of the South, the Queen of the Winter Colonies. The ideal of the Winter Colony was to play three sports a day: polo in the morning, golf in the afternoon and a hunt after dark, when riding was at its most hazardous. Both the men and the women, having inherited extraordinarily large fortunes from their ancestors, amused themselves with daring pastimes that were just as challening as labor. Too rich to work but too active and restless to sit still, they developed in Aiken a hectic style of leisure that became a liestyle for the privileged.
As grand and graceful as ever, The Willcox continues to draw people form all over the world to enjoy superb personal service, gracious accommodations, excellent cuisine and their individual interpretation of the "Aiken lifestyle." This treasure piece of Aiken's history is the living room of the community and a second home to out-of-town guests.
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