The Kanawha Salt Company

In 1755, a Shawnee Indian raiding party stopped at the Kanawha salt springs with some captive pioneers from Virginia. The Shawnees boiled brines in a kettle in order to obtain salt to carry back to Ohio with them. A captive later escaped to tell the story, and in 1774, members of Andrew Lewis' army stopped here on their way to fight Indians in Ohio at the Battle of Point Pleasant. The pioneers' victory at the Battle of Point Pleasant began the settlement of the Kanawha Valley and an increase in the importance of the Kanawha salt springs.

In 1797, Elisha Brooks erected the first salt furnace in the Kanawha Valley at the mouth of Campbell's Creek. He produced as much as 150 bushels of salt a day and sold it to settlers to be used for curing butter and meats. By 1808, David and Joseph Ruffner succeeded in drilling to 59 feet, where they secured a good flow of strong brine. Also in that year, the first salt was shipped west, by river, on a log raft. A younger Ruffner brother, Tobias, suspected that a vast saline reservoir existed under the Kanawha Valley and, drilling to a depth of 410 feet, tapped an even richer brine. This discovery set off a veritable frenzy of drilling and by 1815 there were 52 furnaces in operation in the "Kanawha Salines." In 1817, David Ruffner experimented with the use of coal in his furnaces, and soon all saltmakers had switched from wood to coal. The saltmakers formed a "trust," the Kanawha Salt Company, in order to regulate the quality and price of salt and to discourage foreign competition. This was the first "trust" in the United States. This cooperative helped the salt industry grow until it reached its peak in 1846, producing 3,224,786 bushels that year. At that time, the Kanawha Valley was one of the largest salt manufacturing centers in the United States. In 1861, the Kanawha Valley was flooded. By the late 1800s, because of the 1861 flood and because of Civil War destruction, the Dickinson furnace at Malden was the only survivor of the Great Kanawha River salt industry.

Source: West Virginia Geological & Economic Survey
Mont Chateau Research Center
Box 879 Morgantown, WV 26507-0879