AIKEN, S.C. – The Savannah River Site (SRS) Museum celebrated its reopening in November with “6,000 Stories,” a new permanent exhibit fully funded by DOE’s Office of Legacy Management that shares the accounts of individuals displaced almost 70 years ago to make way for the former nuclear weapons material production site that is now SRS.
The interactive exhibit allows museum guests to dig deep into the history of Ellenton, Dunbarton, and other towns lost to the 310-square-mile site, and listen to stories directly from the displaced residents.
Patrons of the museum in downtown Aiken also can access a new cemetery database to find relocated gravesites of displaced residents.
“The exhibit goes a long way in bridging the gap between the public and the site by preserving the rich history of the area in a publicly accessible location,” said Lauren Miller, the museum's director.
At the museum reopening, former residents, community members, and site employees reminisced about life before the establishment of the then-called Savannah River Plant. They shared stories, reconnected with old friends, and celebrated the preservation of this important period in U.S. history.
“Dunbarton dirt made space exploration possible.” said Margaret Rountree, who had lived in Dunbarton. Rountree was referring to the deep space missions, such as the Galileo space probe to Jupiter launched from the Space Shuttle Atlantis in October 1989, powered by fuel spheres and pellets produced from plutonium-238 at SRS.
“A room full of people both began to understand how 6,000 individuals could walk away from their family homes and call it patriotism, and to feel a sense of honor in being a part of this history themselves,” Miller said.
The museum plans to introduce additional museum exhibits in the future, along with a year of programming and events to mark the 70-year anniversary of SRS next year.
“The museum hopes to continue honoring the history of the Savannah River Site, this region that has sacrificed for it, and this proud community that has sustained it,” Miller said. “Oh, the stories we’ll tell.”
Earlier this year, museum officials unveiled a new gallery displaying the site's historic and ongoing role in environmental stewardship.
A collaboration of the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL) and the USDA Forest Service-Savannah River (USFS-SR), that project highlights the ecological research and land management practices that began in 1951 after SREL and USFS-SR accepted the Atomic Energy Commission’s invitation to conduct work on what would become the SRS.