The Savannah River Site Museum celebrated its reopening in late October 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 visitors 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.
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,” Lauren Miller, the museum's director said.
The museum plans to introduce additional exhibits in the future, along with a year of programming and events to mark the 70th 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 and the USDA Forest Service-Savannah River, 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 SRS.