Early Settlers - The Salt Boilers

 

Established in 1795, Jackson was one of the earliest settlements in the Northwest Territory. It was first named "Salt Lick Town" because the Scioto Salt Licks were located there. It was the location of the Scioto Salt Works, Ohio's first industry.

 

Jackson is located relatively at the geographical center of Jackson County along the banks of historic Salt Lick Creek. Its significance as an important early settlement lies in the fact that the "Scioto Salt Licks," or salt springs, were located here. Archaeological evidence indicates Indian and animal populations dating back to prehistoric times gathered at the licks to obtain salt.

 

Because of the presence of the salt licks, many trails came from all directions into the licks like the spokes of a wagon wheel. These trails were so well engineered by the buffalo and other animals in regard to gentle grades and best directions, that many became highways in later years. A look at a modern road map illustrates this. Many fossils of ancient and extinct species were found here.

 

One species of the prehistoric mammoth, "Elephas jacksoni," was discovered here and thus carries the name "Jackson." There are many accounts of early explorers and pioneers who were brought to the licks by their Indian captors to help make salt, including Daniel Boone. Even the celebrated explorer, Christopher Gist, visited here.

 

Another sight the first settlers saw was on the public square where the Courthouse now stands. Here people found trees with their trunks charred and burned, along with evidence testifying to torturous deaths suffered by white prisoners who were burned to death.

 

Settlement did not begin here until September of 1795, after the Treaty of Greenville was signed. A community began to grow because of the need for salt. In a few short years, this influx of people formed a community. It was named Salt Lick Town.

 

In 1798, Ross County was formed. The southeast corner of this county was Township Seven, Range Eighteen. This is the township in which the Scioto Salt Licks were located. Even though a part of Ross County, the Federal Government held title to the licks themselves. This was due entirely to the importance of salt.

 

The United States Congress set aside a tract of land equivalent to a township (six miles square) comprised from parts of four townships around the salt licks. This became "The Scioto Salt Reserve." The main stipulations were: Anyone could live within this reservation and make salt there; however, they could not purchase any land within the reservation.

 

Because of the rapid influx of settlers, salt was essential. Used mainly for preserving meat and seasoning, until the discovery of salt licks west of the Appalachian Mountains, salt had to be transported from the eastern part of the United States, making it very expensive. Those who first began making salt used single kettle affairs. This was a slow method and production yielded only small amounts.

 

Soon more ambitious methods of producing salt began. From single kettle affairs the new "salt furnaces" were arrangements with 50 to 60 kettles. These were capable of producing about 8 bushels of salt per 24-hour period, equivalent to about 400 pounds. This required boiling 3,600 gallons of the brine-rich waters from the licks.

 

Each year, from 1800 on, the number of furnaces increased. Finally, in 1910 there were 14 along the valley of Salt Lick Creek. The fuel (wood) required to operate the furnaces was incredible. The land, which only a decade ago had been heavily forested, became nude and bare of its magnificent forests. It was shocking how complete was the disregard in which the land was being handled. William Henry Harrison, who later would become President of the United States, visited the area in 1800 and recommended to the Congress that the Scioto Salt Reservation should be leased to prevent any further waste and destruction to the salt lands.

 

After Ohio became a state in 1803, one of the first things the new legislature addressed was how the Scioto Salt Licks would be managed. It was determined to appoint a "Salt Agent" to oversee all operations. Taxes were levied on all furnace operations based on the number of kettles and their capacity. New regulations and changes to existing ones became a regular part of the salt works operations until their end in the mid 1820s.

 

After 1810, production of salt at the licks began to diminish. This was because a much richer salt brine was discovered along the Kanawha River in what is now West Virginia. The brine was twice the strength of that at the Scioto Salt Works. This meant that twice as much salt could be produced from the same amount of salt brine.

 

By 1815 the need to establish a more accessible seat of justice was being discussed. To reach Chillicothe or Gallipolis took a full day by stage coach. This was a principal factor in the organization of what is now Jackson County. Jackson County was organized on March 1, 1816, and by order of the legislature this new county was named Jackson County, after General Andrew Jackson (a national hero at that time and who one day would become the President of the United States).

 

Acting on a request from the Ohio Legislature on April 16, 1816, the United States Congress gave authorization to select one section of land within the Salt Reservation which would make the most appropriate seat of justice. The salt licks, however, were excluded from any transfer of ownership. All proceeds from the sale of the lands within this section would be used to build a courthouse and other public buildings for use by the county. It was during this time the town's name changed from "Salt Lick" to "Jackson Court-House."

The State of Ohio also sought to save the salt industry by drilling deep into the sub strata to obtain stronger salt brine. A richer brine was found at a depth of about 400 feet but it would not rise to the surface. By about 1802 the handwriting was on the wall. The salt industry, as an economic base for Jackson, was doomed. From 1820, when there were five furnaces in operation, their numbers declined. Eventually production stopped altogether.

 

In 1826, in the report of the Scioto Salt Work Agent's report, the last sentence reads: "The making of salt at the Scioto Salt Works has been entirely abandoned."

Thus ended Ohio's first industry.


***


Courtesy of the Jackson Historical Society,
the City of Jackson Tourism Board,
and the Jackson County Genealogical Society.