|The WVGenWeb Project|
Called the Red Salt from Kanawha because of its color which was caused by its iron impurities, it was one of the first major industries in Kanawha County.
Red Salt was collected by early settlers from surface pools in the area. The brine collected from the surface pools was distilled (liquid evaporated) in kettles and used by the early settlers to preserve their meat.
It wasn’t long before commercial manufacture of salt began. In 1797 Elisha Brooks devised a method of dipping into the pools and collecting brine. He used hollowed-out logs with a long pole attached on a pivot. This enabled him to produce salt in larger quantities.
Joseph Ruffner took notice of this and joined Elisha Brooks in his salt production. Elisha Brooks leased land from Joseph Ruffner that was adjoining the salt spring. This enabled Elisha to produce up to 150 pounds a day. Elisha’s salt had a pungent taste but was demanded for its use in butter and meat curing, for which it was unique.
By 1807 Joseph Ruffner, Jr. And David Ruffner had began a large scale salt industry. They had the capacity to use drills to drill through bedrock which allowed them to collected brine that was 2 1/2 times as strong as the brine that Elisha Brooks had collected.
At its hay day the salt industry had 52 furnaces for producing salt. The 15 to 20 wells operating on both sides of the Kanawha produced some 200 gallons of brine. The brine was cooked in huge iron kettles and shipped down stream via the Kanawha River on large flatboats. After improvements were made to the James River and Kanawha Turnpike wagon trail shipments were sent by wagon.
The Salt industry boomed until the Civil War. In 1862, during the war several furnaces were destroyed by the Union Army to keep the salt facilities from being used by the Confederates. After the war salt production all but stopped. Only one company remained open but with little impact. With the closing of this company in 1945 the great salt production age in Kanawha County was over.