The year 1945 saw the beginning of the atomic age with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Five years later, President Harry S. Truman, alarmed by the growing power of Russia and fearing the advent of World War III, approved the selection of a site in South Carolina along the Savannah River for the production of the world's most destructive weapon, the hydrogen bomb. Because of the hazards of radiation, the facility would require 300 square miles. All residents within its perimeter were evicted and the buildings, houses and graveyards of two small villages and one incorporated town either moved or leveled.
Six thousand people sold their homes to the government, being assured that they would be given fair market prices. But like the Indians before them, most were underpaid: $19 million was given for the three towns and 210,000 acres. The lumber alone should have been valued at more than $28 million.
A hand-printed sign on the highway leaving town spoke for its residents: "It is hard to understand why our town must be destroyed to make a bomb that will destroy someone else's town that they love as much as we love ours. But we feel that they picked not just the best spot in the US, but in the world. We love these dear hearts and gentle people who live in our Home Town." Given the enormous weapons build-up by the two superpowers and the expected consequence of Armageddon having been so far avoided, the town's epitaph has been proven; they gave their town so that civilization could survive.
By 1953 the first of the nuclear reactors was started up by DuPont under Government contract, and the area boomed meeting the needs of the 24,000 people employed by the plant. Supplying tritium for nuclear warheads, the site has undergone continual criticism from scientists, environmental groups and Congress. The reactors are presently closed down, presumably forever. About 14,000 are currently employed at the Westinghouse Savannah River Site, as it is now called, focusing predominantly. on environmental research.
New Ellenton never thrived. All that exists today is a highway bisecting small stores and a shopping mall. All the younger residents of Ellenton long ago fled the area, even the state. Of those over 50, more than half died within 10 years of being evicted. A few linger, still able to recall without bitterness the halcyon days of Ellenton.
SAVANNAH RIVER SITE
For photographs of Ellenton and the Savannah River Plant from 1950-53, courtesy
of United States Department of Energy, please visit our Photo Library.