The Savannah River Site Museum, tucked into a historical building in Aiken's downtown shopping-and-dining district, has undergone some serious renovations ahead of its grand reopening later this month.
The museum at 224 Laurens St. S.W. has a brand new exhibit – "6,000 Stories" – in its south wing and sports a slew of galleries unraveling and making tangible otherwise arcane nuclear history and facilities.
Even more improvements are planned for the museum's north wing, where a splashy seven-decade timeline consumes an entire wall.
"6,000 Stories" is an interactive exploration of the people and communities displaced when the government seized land in a clutch of South Carolina counties to form the Savannah River Site, the 310-square-mile nuclear reserve 30 minutes south of Aiken.
The exhibit, featuring towering touch-screen displays, a cemetery database and a portrait wall, explains what happened in places like Ellenton – there's a reason why there is a New Ellenton – and Dunbarton.
The showing was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Lauren Miller, the new Savannah River Site Museum director, said what makes "6,000 Stories" so special is the fact that it recognizes, preserves and makes accessible these personal narratives.
"I love a small museum for the way that it tells the local history and tells the story of a certain community," Miller said, emphasizing that not everything can be learned or appreciated at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
"I'm really stoked about our new exhibit," she said, guiding the Aiken Standard through the museum and highlighting its myriad artifacts and archival material.
Miller took the helm at the museum near the end of May.
Miller is a graduate of the University of West Georgia, where she focused on history and museum studies.
"I didn't think I'd ever work in a museum, but I came to love it through what I was studying in public history," Miller said. "In my mind, it's all about learning how to make history interesting to people who might not like it. So you make it engaging and relatable and find a way to tell stories."
Before becoming the new director, Miller worked at a large botanical garden in Utah. She was there for a handful of years.
Miller hopes to take the Savannah River Site Museum to what she called "the next level" – enhancing what the museum offers and making the museum a community pillar.
"I think Aiken has been really supportive in a lot of ways to the site..." Miller said, referencing SRS. "And I want to kind of give back that support to the community as the museum."
The museum will open again to the public Saturday, which coincides with Atoms in the Alley, a family friendly festival honoring and celebrating the area's rich nuclear roots. Miller said the events work nicely in tandem.
Atoms in the Alley will be held in The Alley, just blocks from the museum. The event will include science-related demonstrations, music, vendors and more. All proceeds will benefit the museum.
A grand reopening for the Savannah River Site Museum is scheduled for Oct. 30.
More information about the museum can be found online: srsheritagemuseum.org.