History of the Friends

On Tuesday, November 24, 1970, in the Aiken City Council chambers, Julian Salley, Attorney representing Sidney Davidson and other Trustees of the Iselin estate, met with the City Council, Mayor Weeks, interested citizens, and the news media to learn that Aiken had been selected as the recipient of the Iselin property known as Hopelands.

Everyone in the community was not pleased with this decision. There was concern that the property would be too expensive to keep up, that it might attract vagrants. How could the City afford to maintain the property in perpetuity without an endowment to support it?

In order to address the community’s concerns, James D. McNair, President of the Farmers and Merchants Bank, and Mayor Weeks joined forces with Julian B. Salley, Jr., to start a private organization devoted to Hopelands that would work with the City of Aiken to preserve, maintain, and develop Hopelands. Sidney Davidson had suggested such an organization and that they seek guidance from Winter Resident Alfred E. Bissell, who was Treasurer in a private, non-profit, tax-exempt [501(c)(3)] organization in Delaware, the Winterthur Museum.

The first organizational meeting of what would become the Friends of Hopelands, Inc. took place on March 19, 1971, at the Farmers and Merchants Bank. McNair described Mrs. Iselin’s will, her wishes for the eventual transfer of her property, and how the City of Aiken requested it and agreed to properly operate and maintain the property.

A resolution was unanimously passed that McNair, Weeks and Salley obtain a charter for Friends of Hopelands, Inc. to become a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization. McNair summed up the aim of the Friends: to supplement and to make better.

When the meeting ended, the Friends of Hopelands leadership team consisted of James D. McNair, President; Mayor H. Odell Weeks, Vice President; Julian B. Salley, Jr., Secretary; and Thomas F. Maurice, Treasurer. Committee Chairmen included: Frank T. Galardi, Membership Committee; Walter C. Plunkett, Jr.,
Grounds Committee; and Samuel A. Cothran, Publicity Committee. The trustees were comprised of Aiken citizens from all walks of life.

This private, not-for-profit organization would be devoted to Hopelands and would partner with the City to preserve, maintain, and develop the property and to raise funds and provide advice.

In l981, the children of Dorothy Knox Goodyear Rogers gave her 10-acre Winter Colony estate to the City of Aiken, and at the Annual Meeting of the Friends on March 19, 1987, the bylaws were changed to include Rye Patch in the name of the organization. Thus, the organization became the Friends of Hopelands and Rye Patch, Inc.

The Friends have donated to the City more than $1.7 million in today’s dollars for the maintenance and improvement of Hopelands Gardens and Rye Patch. Donations to the Friends from individuals and organizations, along with periodic grants from the Hope Goddard Iselin Foundation and the Mills Foundation, support the Friends’ work.

Over the last 50 years, through the leadership of 22 presidents – 16 men and 6 women – the Friends have upheld the wishes of Mrs. Iselin and Mrs. Rogers. The Friends are overseen by 40 Trustees: 36 elected by the Friends and 4 by virtue of office (the City Manager of the City of Aiken, the President/CEO of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce, the President of the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum, and the President of the Aiken Council of Garden Clubs.) An 11-person Executive Committee of these Trustees provides the day-to-day operations. Annual Meetings of the Friends and the Trustees are held each March.

The Friends have developed a strong partnership with the City which enables the community to maintain, improve, and enjoy the beautiful property. At the organizational meeting of the Friends in 1971, James McNair, President of the Friends, said to the new membership: We urge you to talk Hopelands to your friends, neighbors and anyone that will listen. I would like to encourage each of you to solicit members. We need the support of organizations and individuals.

The Friends received that support in abundance, and this generosity and community spirit continues today.