Dunbarton: a town lost to the atom

Community dismantled in favor of SRS

Monday, April 8, 2013 7:28 PM
Last updated Sunday, April 21, 2013 9:41 PM
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Dunbarton is a town lost to the atom.

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Families, such as the Caves, lived in the former rural community of Dunbarton.  SPECIAL
SPECIAL
Families, such as the Caves, lived in the former rural community of Dunbarton.

The community, established in the 1800s and incorporated in 1910, was dismantled and evacuated six decades ago to make way for the Cold War nuclear bomb complex known today as Savannah River Site.

On Nov. 28, 1950, the Atomic Energy Commission shared its plan to acquire 250,000 acres across Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell counties. Residents were given just 18 months to leave their homes, schools, farms and businesses – all for the greater good of a threatened nation.

The plant was part of a network of sites dedicated to the manufacture of “the H-Bomb,” residents were told. Specifically, the South Carolina site would include a series of reactors to manufacture the plutonium and tritium needed to fuel the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

Like many rural Southern towns, Dunbarton was clustered along a rail line. It had two cotton gins, a lumber mill, gas station, a garage, a bank, churches and general stores.

Though the arrival of the “bomb plant” meant prosperity for many communities, including Augusta, it meant the end of an era for the displaced patriots of Dunbarton.

According to the Savannah River Archaeological Research Project’s history of the town, there were about 300 residents in Dunbarton in 1951.

“The majority of the population in and around Dunbarton were farmers, who planted cotton, corn, watermelons and garden vegetables,” the report said. “Most of them also raised livestock to sell at market.”

As the families packed and left, the businesses closed too. Gone were Schumpert’s Lumber Mill and many smaller companies. Churches and schools were abandoned.

Even the dead were evacuated. Across the entire site, the government arranged for about 6,000 graves to be relocated, leaving behind about 700 more. Many of those were in or near Dunbarton.

Lost were local landmarks, including the town’s oldest post office building. During the Civil War, mail was brought to the area from Williston, S.C., by local citizens who took turns picking it up and making sure each letter was delivered to its intended recipient.

Dunbarton resident Bernice Drummond, quoted in the Research Project in 1992, recalled her father’s role as postmaster in the town.

“My father had a country route and a lot of people would come in and order goods from Sears & Roebuck … and Montgomery Ward,” she said. “I remember my father complaining his hand hurt from writing out so many money orders for people ordering from these catalogs.”

After the demise of Dunbarton, reunions were held annually for decades, and former residents and their families still organize visits to the area.

One of the town’s major businesses, Moody’s Drugstore, was dismantled and placed in storage for many decades. Today, its original and fully stocked counter and other items are in display as a permanent exhibit in the Aiken County Historical Museum in Aiken.

THE SERIES

MONDAY: The demise of Pinetucky, a tranquil settlement southwest of Augusta, began with the creation of Fort Gordon.

TODAY: Dunbarton was dismantled and evacuated to make way for Savannah River Site.

WEDNESDAY: Hamburg was built across the Savannah River with the hope of ruining Augusta as a trading center.

THURSDAY: Slave artisans created hundreds of thousands of stoneware vessels in Edgefield County’s Pottersville.

FRIDAY: Residents of Ellenton were forced to surrender their land to make way for the government’s “bomb plant.”

SATURDAY: The decline of tobacco and commerce along the river led to the extinction of Vienna, whose remnants lie beneath Thurmond Lake.

SUNDAY: With the planning of Clarks Hill reservoir, Petersburg was within the area inundated when the dam flooded 70,000 acres.

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