Ellenton, South Carolina
Ellenton was a town that was located on the border between Barnwell County and Aiken County, South Carolina, United States. Settled around 1870, it was acquired by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in 1950 as part of a site for the Savannah River Plant. It was located between the current CSX railroad and the current SC Highway 125, Upper Three Runs Creek, and Four Mile Branch. SC Highway 125 was U.S. Highway 278 in the 1950s.
The settlement began with the construction of the Port Royal and Augusta Railroad, which was later renamed the Charleston and Western Carolina Railway 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.
The town of Ellenton was incorporated in 1880. Nearly all its 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 commercial 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.
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.
New Ellenton, South Carolina, is the direct descendant of Ellenton. An annual reunion of former Ellenton residents started in 1973 and continues today.
The musical "I Don't Live There Anymore: The Ellenton Story" premiered in Dorset, England in 1992 and was part of Piccolo Spoleto held during the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1993. Ellenton and its fate was an inspiration for the town of Colleton in the Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy.
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- Cassels, Louise, The Unexpected Exodus, University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, SC, 2007, ISBN 978-1-57003-709-2.
- This book is a personal history of the author and her sister during the exodus of Ellenton. The 2007 edition is a reprint with a new introduction by Kari Frederickson.
- 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 questionnaire 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.
- I Don't Live There Anymore website - has history and pictures
- Displaced-The Unexpected Fallout from the Cold War website - pictures and footage from Ellenton
- Savannah River Archeological Project website - web gallery has pictures and information on Ellenton
- Early history of the Savannah River Plant
- Savannah River Site at 50 - site selection for the Savannah River Plant from Savannah River Site at 50