Oh, the friends we know and love,
We'll meet upon some other shore,
For Ellenton--fair Ellenton
Is gone forever more.

Hank's Notes

The Death of Ellenton was written by Jesse "Papa" Johnson & Dixie Smith. I first heard it from Rosalie Sorrel's Somewhere Between LP, released in 1964, and it struck me powerfully. Our nation was engaged in repressive conflict in Vietnam, and the picture this song paints of the dismissal of a rural town in order to build a plant to produce H-bomb fodder stood as a stark reminder of government power. Ellenton was but one of several little towns taken to make space for the Savannah River Plant. Decades later we find ourselves continually at war for reasons that many of us are unable to rationalize without invoking tremendous cynicism.

Click here for a concise history with visuals.

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 included 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 their land at ten dollars an acre or less, or simply 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 were the streets, curbs, driveways, and walkways.


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