SRS Museum details 70 years of nuclear, cultural history | News
For a building that looks relatively small on the outside, the museum has a lot going on inside.
The building – formerly the Dibble Library – details the 70 years of nuclear and cultural changes since the Savannah River Plant’s construction in the 1950s, and its effects on Aiken and its surrounding counties.
The Savannah River Site is Aiken’s history, said Lauren Miller, director of the Savannah River Site Museum in Aiken, and remains so as the site continues to thrive.
One of the museum’s permanent exhibits, “6,000 Stories,” deciphers the history of the towns that were built for the slew of workers and their families who came to live, or were relocated, before and during the site’s construction.
“We have a lot of interactives (in the exhibit) that lets individuals go deeper into the history,” Miller said. “You can listen to recordings from original residents about their experience and where they were when they first heard the announcement that the site was coming.”
The announcement Miller refers to took place on Nov. 28, 1950, and most likely was been heard by thousands of people via radio.
Such a radio, formerly belonging to one Margaret Roundtree, a former site employee, is located in the main exhibit at the museum and plays a recording of the original announcement.
The announcement confirmed that “250,000 acres will be used” for a site now encompassing Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell counties.
“There were a lot of rumors going around … like maybe (the site) was going to be a broom factory … it was very interesting to hear what people were thinking (after the announcement) …” Miller said.
Workers soon found that the facilities, and the people involved, would produce the basic materials used in the fabrication of nuclear weapons, primarily tritium and plutonium-239, in support of the nation’s defense programs.
Scattered throughout the building are exhibits displaying the political setting of the Cold War era, including the Sino-Soviet split, the Space Race and a replica fallout shelter.
A future exhibit – set to open next October – will explore the programs and the scientific aspects of the site, including its connection to the innovative technology that helped the country achieve space travel.
“The Savannah River Site helped not only the nation but the globe,” Miller said. “You don’t really know that until you walk around and look at everything … and see the stories there.”
The SRS Museum, located at 224 Lauren St. S.W., is open Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.