The residents of Ellenton were told that there was a big announcement coming to the town in 1950, but the rumor was that it was a new factory relocating to the community.
What they instead received was a notice that the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission was purchasing their land through eminent domain to make plutonium for hydrogen bombs. About 6,000 people were uprooted to build what is now the 310 square mile-Savannah River Site (SRS).
65 years later, Energy Department officials have opened the Ellenton Heritage Trail, which crosses the site of the former town. Visitors will now be able to take a walking tour and learn about what the town was like before the displacement. The trail is located just west of Highway 125, about nine miles southeast of the town of Jackson.
SRS Heritage Foundation executive director Walt Joseph told South Carolina Radio Network that the heritage trail has been a dream for almost a decade, along with the SRS Museum located in downtown Aiken. “We are involved in protecting and presenting to the public all aspects of the Savannah River Site.” Joseph said.
Now the foundation will be able to host public tours along the trail, something that Joseph hopes will begin as early as next month.
“This is a first for people to be able to walk through and talk about what was there in this small, agricultural community and how it was all displaced by the coming of the Savannah River Site.” Joseph said.
The trail covers about 1.5 miles of original streets within the downtown area of Ellenton. The former town site occupies about six acres.