Originally created 11/16/00

'Memories of Home'



Charles Meyer had hopes of someday moving back to the small South Carolina town named after his grandfather.

But, by the time he had gone to college and pursued a military career, the town had been taken over by the federal government to build a nuclear weapons site.

His relatives were among the 1,500 families given 18 months to evacuate the 200,000-acre site along the Savannah River.

What would become Savannah River Site comprised parts of Ellenton, Dunbarton, Hawthorne, Leigh, Meyers Mill and Robbins - six small towns in Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell counties.

Mr. Meyer, 74, remembers that November day 50 years ago when he was notified that Meyers Mill residents had to leave. He was living in Atlanta, where he still resides.

"I went home that weekend, and people didn't seem too concerned," he said. "But as the time went by, they found out it was a lot bigger deal than they thought. That was my impression. I was concerned because I had hopes of going back there and living."

On Nov. 28, 1950, it was announced during a radio broadcast that the Atomic Energy Commission had selected the site for its plant.

The initial investment of $250,000 grew to $1.4 billion.

Mr. Meyer recalls fond memories of growing up in Meyers Mills.

"I look back on it now, and it was almost a perfect life," he said from his Atlanta home. "Everybody knew everybody. Neighbors helped neighbors. They weren't prying into one another's business; they were there if you needed them."

Meyers Mill was named after Mr. Meyer's grandfather Charles Curren Meyer.

"He was there, and he became a farmer and owned a cotton gin and gristmill and had a general merchandise store," Mr. Meyer said. "There was no railroad there, and when the Atlantic Coast Line came and made a railroad from Augusta to Florence, S.C., they named it after him because he was the predominant merchant.

"My grandfather had two sons, and my daddy - Charles Olan Meyer Sr. - followed in his footsteps," Mr. Meyer said. "He had (gone) away and finished business school and worked for The Coca-Cola Co., and (my grandfather) begged him to come back home, and he did and went into business with his daddy."

Mr. Meyer's father and his mother, Annie Laurie Rountree, met in Meyers Mill, where they reared him and his sister, Cecil Harriet Meyer.

"I was born in Meyers Mill," he said. "But it wasn't intended that way."

His mother was in a hospital in Augusta but was sent home when she did not go into labor. On the way home, the labor pains increased.

"Back then, roads weren't paved," Mr. Meyer said. "So the trip back home did the work. As soon as she got there, they had to call the neighboring doctor in Ellenton - we didn't even have a doctor - and he got there in time to make my delivery."

Several families in Meyers Mill were related to Mr. Meyer and his family, and there were plenty of children in the area to keep him company.

"There were several boys in the neighborhood, and we would get out there and play what you would call sandlot baseball," Mr. Meyer said. "We also swam a lot. My grandfather, and my daddy later, had a tremendously big pond, and they let the whole entire neighborhood use it on Sunday, and they would come from as far away as Barnwell and Dunbarton and all those areas.

"They built a little dressing house for the people to change. That was a big thing during the summer and usual kids games. The girls, as I recall, mostly played dolls and mud pies."

Most of the homes in Dunbarton and Meyers Mill were one-level frame structures. They were covered by weatherboard and generally had two porches. A long hall went down the middle of the homes to separate them into halves, according to the SRS history publication Memories of Home: Dunbarton and Meyers Mill Remembered.

During its existence, Meyers Mill had only two postmasters. They were Mr. Meyer's father and his grandfather.

Mr. Meyer said the community was a religious one.

"We had a Baptist church that was predominantly the denomination," he said. "A lot of activities centered around the church activities - when it was founded it was called Steel Creek Baptist Church - but they decided to build it closer to Meyers Mill and changed it to Meyers Mill Baptist Church."

There was a fire in the town in the late 1930s that burned several businesses.

"No homes were damaged, but the town - including the post office - was totally wiped out," Mr. Meyer said. "But it rebuilt, not nearly as many stores because the roads were getting better and people got cars and drove to other cities."

Mr. Meyer was 16 when he left the town in 1941.

"I graduated on a Friday night, left Meyers Mill and never returned to live." he said. "I went to Charleston, S.C., for a summer job with the state highway department, then to college and military service. I left early, but I visited as often as I could."

Mr. Meyer lived in Augusta in the 1950s but chose to move to Atlanta, where he retired from Equifax as a department head.

His father died in 1954, his mother in 1996. Mr. Meyer has not visited SRS since his town was evacuated. The memories, though, will live forever, he said.

"I didn't think it was a perfect life at the time," Mr. Meyer said. "I wanted to stay home from school and work with my father, but when I think back at my life when I came along, and I'm very fortunate. It was about as perfect as you could possibly have."

Reach Faith Johnson at (706) 823-3765..