AIKEN - Fifty years ago Tuesday, Steve Harley was sitting in class when the announcement came over the radio that changed his life.
The Atomic Energy Commission announced it would build Savannah River Plant right where the high school senior was sitting. Everyone had to move from his town of Ellenton, population 600.
"I've never seen so many people crying and touching," said Mr. Harley, now 68. Shortly thereafter, he moved to North Augusta with his mother, leaving behind his friends, school and town.
More than 300 people displaced by the plant were reunited at a 50th anniversary luncheon Tuesday for residents from small farming communities, including Ellenton, Dunbarton, Hawthorne, Meyers Mill, Robbins and Leigh.
"This is the happiest day of my life since I moved out," said the Rev. Marion Greene, 75, who moved from Dunbarton. "I've seen all my old buddies here whom I did everything with."
Squinting at name tags of faces they remembered from childhood, everyone greeted and hugged one another while slides of their old hometowns flashed in the background.
Old friends Magilou Norris and Ada Mae Hutto chatted over barbecue and pound cake, reminiscing about their lives 50 years ago. Both women, now in their 70s, said they wished they had a hometown to go back to, like most people. All that's left of Dunbarton is cement walkways leading to grassy knolls where their homes used to be.
"We lived with a group of people who were like family," Mrs. Norris said. "Our churches and cemeteries are gone. When you hear of people going home to church, we can't do that. There's nothing there."
Mrs. Hutto went back to her land about 15 years ago and saw the flowers her mother had planted, now overgrown in the vacant lot.
On her now-deceased husband's last day at Savannah River Site before he retired, he picked a bunch of those flowers from her old garden and brought them home to her.
"And he wasn't the flower kind," Mrs. Hutto said.
Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895.