Atomic City Festival commemorates town uprooted by SRS

As her three children giggled and whirled around Saturday in a teacup-like ride at the Atomic City Festival, Brandi Waters laughed and took pictures of them with her cellphone.

This was the first year the Columbia native and her children had attended the festival, but she said her husband, Jason, who grew up in New Ellenton, has come often.

She said she loved the relaxed atmosphere of the small town festival.

“To me, I’m used to the state fair in Columbia,” she said. “It’s nice. Not real crowded. The people are real nice, real friendly.”

Down the midway, Ana Mari White, 8, pulled on her mother’s arm, in a rush to get to the canoe ride. It was their first time at the festival also.

“I didn’t even know anything about it,” Deanna White said. “I found out about it through a friend of mine. I saw the signs up. ”

The families said they know the festival as a family-friendly activity.

In a small building near the festival grounds, the SRS Heritage Foundation set up exhibits as an educational component. The Atomic City Festival commemorates Ellenton, a town that no longer exists.

“In 1950, the government decided to build a plant to make new nuclear weapons because we were afraid the Russians were getting ahead of us,” said Walt Joseph, the foundation’s executive director. “In doing so, it meant 6,000 people had to be relocated from their homes.”

Ellenton was the largest of about six towns affected by the building of what is now Savannah River Site. Many of the residents moved about 14 miles north and formed New Ellenton.

Joseph said the site chosen for the nuclear facility, chosen from among 100 possible locations, was ideal for many reasons.

The water supply needed to cool the reactors was met by the Savannah River. The nearby railroad and highways provided a good transportation network. With Augusta and Aiken nearby, there were plenty of people who could be hired to work. The mild climate meant they could work year-round. It also had to be out of range of the Soviet bombers coming over the north pole, Joseph said.

Joseph and other members of the SRS Heritage Foundation are working to preserve and interpret the role of SRS in winning the Cold War. Part of that mission is preserving the history of the towns displaced by the site.

On Saturday, members were seeking people who lived in one of those towns to tell their stories as part of an oral history project.

The exhibit featured a map and photographs of Ellenton, along with copies of Displaced, a documentary of recorded memories of the former residents.

The Atomic City Festival began in 1972 as a way to remember those who were displaced by SRS. It took a hiatus for a few years and resumed in 1996, New Ellenton Mayor Vernon Dunbar said.

Joseph hopes that the SRS Foundation’s display will keep the town of Ellenton alive for the younger generation.

“I think a lot of the young people don’t know (about it),” Joseph said. “And that’s one of the reasons I think it’s important to capture this information while we can, because the people who remember it personally are not going to be around forever.”

Ellenton lives again in film
SRS group hopes to share history

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