Ellenton, SC: A Town No More

(From my old blog Strange Carolina Tales)

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.


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.”


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.


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



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.


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



  • 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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