Town of Ellenton casualty of 'bomb plant'

Ellentonians headed north to New Ellenton

Thursday, April 11, 2013 4:41 PM
Last updated Sunday, April 21, 2013 9:40 PM
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The town of Ellenton, S.C., was born from a friendship that led to a tiny train stop along an otherwise lonely route.

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A house is moved from Ellenton as the town is evacuated to make way for what is now the Savannah River Site.  SPECIAL
A house is moved from Ellenton as the town is evacuated to make way for what is now the Savannah River Site.

The year was 1870, and the Port Royal-Augusta Railroad was extending track through the property of James Dunbar Jr., whose family had settled in the Barnwell County area in the late 1700s.

The construction superintendent, known as “Mr. Millet,” became friends with Dunbar, who gave rights-of-way for the rail line and allowed him to board passing trains in front of the family’s home.

Millet’s fondness for Dunbar’s 9-year-old daughter, Ellen, led him to name the station in her honor. Three years later, when the family gave land to establish streets around the station, it became known as “Ellen’s Town,” or Ellenton.

The story, passed along through oral tradition, was reported in a community history project compiled by the Savannah River Archaeological Research Study decades after the town was erased from the landscape to make way for the government’s “bomb plant.”

The project, now called Savannah River Site, was announced Nov. 28, 1950, by the Atomic Energy Commission, which demanded that residents within the nearly 300-square-mile site surrender their land to the government and leave.

Most were given 18 months to get out, but properties directly in the path of nuclear reactors that would be built to make bomb-grade tritium and plutonium were moved away within weeks.

Some residents were allowed to buy their houses back with funds awarded to them by the government, and estimates indicate as many as 15 percent of the homes left the area aboard flatbed trailers.

News reports say most uprooted residents took the displacement with stoicism described as patriotic at the time.

“I hate to see Ellenton dissolve like this, but if this plant will help end the war, we shouldn’t really complain,” filling station operator James Utley told The Augusta Chronicle that year.

Politicians applauded the choice of the site.

“I am glad that South Carolina and her people can have a part in helping this nation maintain a free world,” then S.C. Gov. Strom Thurmond said.

Though the farmers and business owners left, the workforce assembled at the site was massive by anyone’s scale.

By June 1951, 8,000 workers were in place, increasing to 38,600 by September 1952.

By the end of the 1950s, Augusta’s population had grown by 25 percent and the number of residents in North Augusta had tripled.

The community once known as Ellenton became New Ellenton – re-established 14 miles to the north just outside the plant’s border – and attracted not only displaced residents from within the plant, but many newcomers lured by jobs created by the atomic age.


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

TUESDAY: 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.

TODAY: 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.

Comments (7) Add comment
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Riverman1 04/12/13 - 07:29 am
I always heard it called the

I always heard it called the "bum" plant.

smartasugarsugar 04/12/13 - 07:50 am

how is kicking people out of their homes and building a nuclear power plant helping the war?

bubbasauce 04/12/13 - 09:11 am
I couldn't wait to see the

I couldn't wait to see the comments with the mindset of people today. It came on the second post. Congratulations smartassugarsugar, your post wins the "All about me" that is prevalent in today's world. Then of course you would get a lawyer and prosecute.

GeorgiaCarolina 04/12/13 - 08:50 pm

They were not kicked out of their homes to build a "nuclear power plant". The plant's reactors were producing elements to be used in the nation's nuclear arsenal. These people felt it was their patriotic duty to help the nation counter the Soviet nuclear threat. Most people back then believed we would be going to war again, this time with the USSR. You are right bubbasauce, it was not about them, it was about the defense of the country.

BamaMan 04/12/13 - 01:17 pm
My dad

was one of the 38,600 in September 1952, while I was still in mom's "oven" to arrive later that month. Dad retired from SRP, as it was then. Now he's gone, and is sorely missed. Dad always pronounced it "bum plant", but that's just how he talked. It's still bomb plant to this Alabama born, transplant to South Carolina, eventually to Augusta, GA, Southern, American baby boomer!

Red Headed Step Child
Red Headed Step Child 04/12/13 - 01:04 pm
@Rob Pavey

Enjoying the articles - great way to learn a little history!

etlinks 04/12/13 - 03:11 pm
Thanks BamaMan for a good

Thanks BamaMan for a good comment most people call it the bomb plant or SRS and you are exactly correct GeorgiaCarolina.

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