Ellenton, SC: A Town No More

I recently did a search for ghost towns in South Carolina and came across this. I never realized that we had anything like this in SC. The following is from the website with my thoughts interjected here and there.

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.

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 Can you imagine? Coming home from school one day and your parents telling you that you are moving is one thing, being told that the town is going to be destroyed is another. I am from Kershaw. Look on the map to find it, you’ll need it. If I ever mention where I live to someone, I usually get “where is that?”. The usual reply is between Camden and Lancaster. What if you had to answer the question with “Where was that, you mean.”

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Early history

The settlement began with the construction of the Port Royal and Augusta Railroad, which was later renamed the Charleston and Western Carolina Railroad and is now part of CSX Transportation. It ran through the plantation of Robert Jefferson Dunbar. Part of his land was for the railroad right-of-way, the train station, and town.

Oral tradition tells us that the superintendent of the railroad construction and president of the railroad, Stephen Caldwell Millet, boarded with the Dunbar family. He was so struck with the attractiveness of Ellen Dunbar, the nine year old daughter of the Dunbars, that he asked his company to name the station “Ellen’s Town.” In a note to the O’Berry book, the Savannah River Archeological Research Program indicates that Mary Ellen Dunbar was twenty-two years old in 1870.

During the election of 1876 at the end of Reconstruction, a conflict, known as the Ellenton Riots, occurred.

The Town of Ellenton was incorporated in 1880. Nearly all it life, it was an agricultural, trading, and sawmill town. It declined through the downturn of cotton prices after World War I and the Depression of the 1930s. By the early 1950s, Ellenton had a population of about 760, about 190 residences, about 30 commerical buildings, five churches, two schools including Ellenton High School, one cotton gin, a city hall and jail, and the railroad station.

Ellenton had the first automatic telephone dialing system in South Carolina. After the bank failures in the Great Depression, Ellenton had the first cash depository in South Carolina.

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Lots of rich history. Gone forever, except what we can find here and there. More…..

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Exodus

On November 28, 1950, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and the E. I. du Pont de Nemours Company announced that the Savannah River Plant would be built on about 300 sq. mi. of Aiken County, Barnwell County, and Allendale County in South Carolina. The Savannah River Plant was built for the production of plutonium and tritium for the H-bomb.

About 6,000 people and 6,000 graves were to be relocated. This include the incorporated communities of Ellenton and Dunbarton and the unincorporated communities of Hawthorne, Meyers Mill, Robbins, and Leigh. A significant fraction of those removed were African-American farmers and sharecroppers.

The government purchased or condemned the property. Many of the residents moved themselves, and in some cases, their homes to the new town of New Ellenton, South Carolina on U.S. Highway 278, which was eight miles north, and nearby Jackson, Beech Island, Aiken, North Augusta, and Augusta, Georgia. Some moved out of state. Eventually, nearly all that was left behind was the streets, curbs, driveways, and walkways.

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And there you go, in a nutshell, the story of Ellenton, SC.

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References

  • Cassels, Louise, The Unexpected Exodus, Sand Hill Press, Aiken, SC, 1971.
This book is a personal history of the author and her sister during the exodus of Ellenton.
  • O’Berry, Lucius Sidney, Ellenton, SC: My Life … Its Death, Brooks, Richard D. and Browder, Tonya A., eds., Savannah River Archaeological Research Heritage Series, No. 4, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, 1999.
This book is a history of Ellenton and autobiography up to the time of the exodus. Its extensive notes, written by the Savannah River Archeological Project, gives additional information on Ellenton residents.
  • Browder, Tonya A., and Brooks, Richard D., Memories of Home: Reminiscences of Ellenton, Savannah River Archaeological Research Heritage Series, No. 2, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, 1996.
In the 1990s, the authors surveyed residents of the former town of Ellington by questionaire and interviews. The respondents included whites and African-Americans. Former residents living within the town limits as well as former residents of the area outside of the town limits that identified with Ellenton were included. The topics covered include agriculture, businesses, local government, religion, education, entertainment, and organization. It also discusses Ellenton’s reunions.
 
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21 Responses

  1. It’s so sad when once-thriving communities disappear. So much history disappearing for so many reasons. It’s far too common. Fortunately, many people are preserving memories of their hometowns when they write their own personal histories. I wrote about neighborhoods in the most recent post on my blog about personal history. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. i live in new ellenton it is a great town my step dad has lived her for over 50 years this town is great people love it, its small and old but it still has is great moments.

  3. My ancestors (George Foreman 1701-1786) settled on a 455 acre land grant from the Crown in 1745 and shortly after that build the Stagecoach Inn next to the road running from Augusta to Charles Town (what it was called then). It was handed down through the family for years as it continued to operate as an Inn with stories published about people who stayed there to around 1900. It remained there after the government took the land over for the Savannah River Atomic Facility and in 1963, the Aiken Historical Society obtained a permit to move it to just west of Aiken to become their headquaters. The building was restored but vandals burned it before it coule be opened. I’m looking for stories about the famous inn and in particular, photos of it either in the original location or after it was moved.
    Jim Foreman, jimfore@cox.net

  4. We just finished watching “Displaced” about Ellenton, Dunbarton, Meyers Mill and all that were taken over by the government for SRS. You have to think-yes, the jobs that were created were a boost for the area, but at what cost where those jobs given? Was it worth it to all the people who lost not only their homes but their towns and their livelihoods?

  5. My family history is lost forever. To move and cheat many who did not know better. Promised that life would be better and for the advancement of all, was a joke. Along with the death of Ellenton, went the death of my history. Black familly history was not written, it is told verbally, passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, Grandma (bigmomma) to all the children she raised is no longer obtainable!!! Death, or loss of relatives due to relocation of this town, will never be recovered.

  6. I live in New Ellenton also. The government is always going to cheat, lie, and steal. Ask any native American Indian how their land deal turned out with the government. Ask any military veteran how the government takes care of them after they return home from war after giving their limbs sacrificing their lives and families for the government.
    If you think you actually own a piece of property that you bought and paid for, just try missing one annual property tax payment to the county and see what happens to it.

  7. I owned a home in New Ellenton and worked in security at SRS for over 16 yrs.I had the opportunity to drive the remaining streets of Ellenton and see some still standing homes.The oddest part was the vegetable gardens that still produced tomatoes and watermelon, years after being deserted.There were a few rusted vehicles and even some appliances in some of the homes.The place always gave me a very uneasy feeling.

    • Jerry,

      My grandparents lived in Ellenton from the 20s until removal to Beech Island in the early 50s. My dad grew up in Ellenton and one of my earliest memories was a visit to the site of Ellenton he somehow arranged about 1960. As a child it was spooky and for him very sad. I had an uncle, Ray Eargle, that worked at the plant for many years. Perhaps you knew him. Do you have any photos of Ellenton that you would be willing to share ?

      Jordan

  8. Does anyone know if the Savannah River Plant ever had any segregated facilities?

    • Of course it didn’t …there wasn’t any minorities WORKING at the BOMB PLANT as we called it in the 50′s and 60′s…
      My great grand parent were a part of that exodus…matter if fact I was baptized at 1 the chuches that was moved…the RUNS CHURCH on 278 in Beech Island…other church moved for SRP;FRIENDSHIP(Silver BLUFF Raod), The PARK up the run from The RUNS on 278; and HAZELGROVE on 125 in Beech Island; ZION FAIR in New Ellenton;Bean Pond in Jackson.

  9. [...] a few minutes, according to the signs. The tiny park has a historical marker commemorating where Ellenton, South Carolina, once existed, before President Truman ordered the town leveled in 1950 for the nuclear site. If [...]

  10. [...] a few minutes, according to the signs. The tiny park has a historical marker commemorating where Ellenton, South Carolina, once existed, before President Truman ordered the town leveled in 1950 for the nuclear site. If [...]

    • The homes were still there in the 70′s,80′s90′s and probably there today. The give tours. The Government does lie to you however. My fahter0in-law worked there and I lived less than 7 miles from Old Ellenton for 20yrs in total.

  11. I have ancestors who lived there. My Father had to sign over his property rights when he was 21. I am wondering where the graves were moved to as his forefather was probably there.

    • When the site was created they moved over 6000 remains to various other cemeteries. Your best bet for finding re-interred relatives is to make contact with Mr. George Wingard, the Administrative Manager of the Savannah River Archeological Research Program. His group has been doing archeological research at the site since 1973 and have catalogued volumes of information pertaining to the former residents of the area both ancient and recent. He has a listing by name of the majority of folks that were moved from cemeteries located within the site boundary. He can be reached at 803-725-3724 and would be happy to help you in your search. When you talk to him be as specific as possible concerning where your people lived on the site.

  12. The old site of Ellenton, SC is viewable in Google Earth. The coordinates are: 33°13’29.05″N 81°44’9.16″W

    I have also seen a topo map of Ellenton and areas to the east, dated about 1948 or so.

    Maybe someone can figure out a way to overlay the two.

  13. Actually the real deal With Ellenton,S.C. residents were evacuate from this town due to Nuclear reactor and containment’s caused people to leave immediately if they were @ their tables eating the just had to go! Thanks to E.I.DuPont aka SRS negligence. They moved the entire town to New Ellenton,S.C. just miles down the road. I lived there 20yrs my Father-In-law worked there for approx. 40yrs, he died from beriium exposure, my oldest daughter has Cancer n Lupus since her early 20′s. I lived less than one mile from he main gates 5 yrs, them less than 3 miles 18yrs and went back 4yrs ago and lived right by the plant. I was sick the entire time I lived there, and then again when I went back. Old Ellenton still stands and tours are given or were in the 70-80,90′s. The government still today is killing people and they know it. Everything in New Ellenton is contaminated! My water, my dairy products, the environment,the fish we ate, Cold Creek were we swim. The government compensate people that worked @ the plant 8 hrs a day but the ones that lived there 24/77′s nothing until they die. I have had cancer in the bad,bad stages Melinomia, and 3 other types and many things that are related to the plant. They can commit premeditated murder and get by with it. Its and ongoing thing and they admit to it still! 1986 the spill i was living there n was exposed to this as well. Yes, its a Ghost town and all b/c of the Governments killing people w/o any repercussions. They ARE ABOVE THE LAW! Discrimination is what I see it as!

  14. I had always heard rumors that the construction of the damn and lake thurmond had something to do with the town. I assume now that this is wrong… Does anyone know what town is under Lake Thurmond?

    • Several towns, including Petersburg, Lisbon, and Hamilton were flooded, and the Corps of Engineers should have a map showing them at the Lake Visitors’ Center, I believe.

      The dam (no N) was constructed beginning in 1946, and was completed in 1954. I do not believe there is any credible evidence to connect the Clarks Hill dam project and the Savannah River Site.

  15. This is all quite interesting. I’d be most interested talking with the author/creator of this site.

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