Bon Secour Salt Wells
In 1861, the Northern and Southern parts of the United States went to war. The North had been sending food stuff, grain, fruits, lumber, iron and salt to the South in exchange for cotton, the main crop for the South. When the war began, these supplies were cut off. What would the South do? The planters put their heads together and began to think. The people of the little town of Bon Secour had plenty of corn, potatoes, meats of all kinds, syrup, fish, oysters and a few fruits. These people had plenty food. They lived so far south that they were not in direct path of Federal Army, although cotton by the bales was appropriated by the Federals.
Salt, the main ingredient for preserving and seasoning, they did not have. It was sent from the North. There was not anything they could use for a substitute. The people used potatoes and cornmeal as a flour substitute, parched corn and dried sweet nut flakes as substitute for coffee and syrup as a sugar substitute. A substitute for salt could not be found. The food tasted so flat it just could not be enjoyed. Something had to be done at once.
Water in the Bon Secour River was very salty. It was only about one and half miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Why couldn't the salt water from the river be used? It was tried! But to utter disappointment of people, the food cooked in the water was bitter. Finally someone thought of evaporating the water and leaving the salt crystals.
A round hole about eight feet deep and twelve feet wide or wider was dug near the edge of the river. The sides of the wells were reinforced with logs. On the edges were built platforms or shelves for the workers to stand on. The water seeped through the ground from the bottom into the wells. The water was left standing for about a day, then bailed out by big dippers, put into big boilers and heated until the salt crystals were left by the evaporation of the water. Some water was hauled from the Gulf.
How delicious food tasted once more, all brought about by adding a few grains of salt. At least once a month, a schooner would sail from Bon Secour to Mobile carrying a precious load of salt. Each sack would weigh about sixty pounds and would sell for $40 a sack.
Years have passed and the banks of the beautiful Bon Secour River have sunk but the salt wells are still to be seen. Marsh grass and reeds cover the banks and gracefully fall into the water while moss covers the platforms making them very slippery. These wells are filled with water caused by high tides that rise daily overflowing the banks of the river. They have become useful today as homes to little fish.
In a few more years, the old wells will be only memory. Day by day, sand and water are vying for a place. Soon, sand will win and the wells will be level ground again.