Aiken

Archibald Murphy Aiken (February 12, 1889 - November 27, 1971) was a strict judge of the Corporation Court in Danville from 1950 until his death. His legal career as a lawyer, municipal attorney, and judge spanned over half a century. He was born in Danville, the son of Archibald Murphy Aiken and Mary Ella Yates. Some accounts give his birth year as 1888 or 1890, but we are using 1889 which is the date that appears in his obituary. Although he would be considered a “Junior”, he seldom used that suffix to his name. After receiving preparatory education in Danville schools, he received an undergraduate degree from VMI, where he may have acquired his affinity for strict discipline. He subsequently earned a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1913, the year of his father’s death.

Aiken served with the Coast Artillery during World War I and then was named attorney for the City after he returned from service. During that time, he was a strong advocate of public electric power. He negotiated with state and federal agencies for construction of the City’s Pinnacles hydroelectric dam in Patrick County, which still serves Danville’s electrical system. He left the office of City Attorney in 1939 and returned to the private practice of law. In 1950, he was appointed judge of the Corporation Court to serve the unexpired term on the late Judge Henry Leigh. His father had held the same post from 1888 until early in the twentieth century. He was appointed to his first full eight-year term in 1952 and served in successive terms until his death.

During the civil rights demonstrations in 1963, Judge Aiken was criticized by U. S. Justice Department officials for wearing a gun and then national press quickly dubbed him the “pistol-packing judge” by the national press. He admitted to wearing the weapon for self-protection but said he never wore it while on the bench. He again gained national prominence later in his career when he handed down a 20-year prison sentence to a University of Virginia dropout who pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana, an indication of his strictness.However, Governor Mills E. Godwin reduced the sentence and agreed to place the youth under supervision of probation authorities in his home state of Tennessee.

Before becoming a judge, Aiken held business interests in Riverside and Dan River Mills, Danville Knitting Mills, Virginia National Bank, and Danville Cooperative Warehouses. He was a member of the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, Theta Delta Chi and Sigma Delta Chi fraternities at the University of Virginia, and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Politically he was a Democrat. He was a member of Roman Eagle Masonic Lodge No. 122 and a thirty-second degree Mason in the Danville Scottish Rite.

On December 13, 1922, Aiken married Corinne Conway.Miss Conway was the daughter of Alexander Conway, a Danville realtor for many years and Corinne Gray. Aiken and Corinne had one son, Archibald Murphy Aiken III, who was born on January 23, 1924 and sometimes used the suffix “Junior”. He received a BA degree from the University of Virginia in 1947, a LLB degree from the same school in 1948 and became a judge in Leesburg, Virginia. Mrs. Corinne Aiken had three siblings, Lillian Conway who married Lee A. Wilson, Mary Conway, and Alexander C. Conway. After Corinne's death, Aiken married Mary Mickley, who survived him. Early in life, Aiken lived with his parents on West Main Street.As a young man, he roomed at the Tuscarora Club at 712 Main Street and after marrying, he lived with his family at 904 Main Street.

The Aikens are a very old Virginia family, having come at the very founding of the colony on the banks of the James River. They held land by grant from the Crown and later extended their possessions into Tennessee. Members of the family served in the Indian, Colonial, Revolutionary, Mexican and Civil wars. The grandfather of the first Archibald Murphy Aiken was Benjamin Wilson Aiken who was born in Cumberland County, Virginia in 1827 and died in 1851. He married Jane Carter of Madison, North Carolina and resided in both Virginia and North Carolina. Benjamin and Jane Aiken had three children: Patty who married and died at age thirty-five, Benjamin Wilson, who was a railroad superintendent and died in Texas at age fifty, and Archibald Murphy, who was born in Madison, North Carolina in 1849 and died in Danville on May 5, 1913.

This Archibald Murphy Aiken came to Danville in 1869 (another source says 1867) and read law with E. E. Bouldin, after which he began the practice of law. Most of the legal fraternity at that time was characterized by great caution and conformity but young Aiken, on the contrary, was fearless in the expression of his opinion and relentless in condemnation of wrong-doing. He soon won recognition for his qualities and on January 5, 1878 was appointed judge of the Corporation Court of Danville, at the time the youngest person to ever hold that office in Danville. About 1882, when Republicans gained political control of Virgina, John D. Blackwell was elected and served one term as judge.The General Assembly of 1888 and 1889 was again Democratic and when Judge Blackwell’s term expired, Judge Aiken was elected to succeed him and continued on the bench until 1911 when his health failed, a continuous term of twenty-two years. During his years as judge, he earned the reputation of being an austere judge, unflinching in discharge of his duties. On the bench he enforced respect for the court and maintained order at all times, sometimes rather rigidly.However, personally and socially he was a kindly and companionable gentleman, loyal in his friendships though many regarded him as a rather ascetic man. One writer commented that during Aiken's terms of office, Danville became a terror to evildoers and noteworthy for law and order, a reputation continued by his son.

Aiken married Mary Ella Yates, born in Danville of a well known Virginia family, on December 14, 1881, and they had one son, Archibald Murphy Aiken, whose life has been outlined above. The elder Judge Aiken had a robust physical physique but in 1910, friends began to notice signs of dementia which steadily worsened to the point that the Governor designated someone to act for him in the court. In August 1911, his condition had deteriorated so severely that he was transferred to the hospital for the mentally ill in Staunton where he ended his life. His son was with him when he died. His body was conveyed by train from Charlottesville on southbound train No. 35, accompanied by his son and his wife’s sister, Miss Augusta Yates. The casket was conveyed in a hearse to the residence of J. M. Wilson on West Main Street where it remained through the night until the funeral service at the Church of the Epiphany the next day with Rev. J. Cleveland Hall officiating. Aiken was buried in the family plot in Green Hill Cemetery. His wife, Mary Ella Yates, had died soon after her husband’s removal to Staunton and is also buried in Green Hill Cemetery. Although Alzheimers disease was not known as such in the early 1900s, it seems probable that this Judge Aiken suffered from this malady.

In 1970 Danville City Council honored the younger Archibald Murphy Aiken by naming the $4.5 million Broad Street-U. S. 86 bridge complex in his honor. There is also an Aiken Street in Danville which runs parallel to Route 86 for a short distance north from Watson Street. The street was shortened during a relocation of Route 86 through the City.