Beginnings of Kanawha Valley Industry

Long before West Virginia made its Civil War split from Virginia, the Kanawha Valley was known for its mineral wealth. Pioneers knew of the valley's salt springs at least as early as the late 1750's when Mary Draper Ingles, an escaped captive of Shawnee warriors, recounted having seen the natives distill salt. In 1774, Andrew Lewis, a brigadier general in the Virginia militia, reported encountering the springs on his march to the Battle of Point Pleasant. It was his soldiers' defeat of the natives at Point Pleasant that would first open the Kanawha Valley to settlement and industry. Elisha Brooks* was the first to erect a salt furnace in the valley. At the mouth of Campbell's Creek, Brooks heated brine in large iron kettles and produced Kanawha Red Salt--red because of its iron impurities--beginning in 1797. The valley boasted 52 salt furnaces by 1815, and Kanawha's salt industry soon formed the Kanawha Salt Company, America's first trust, in order to regulate prices and discourage competition. A flood on September 29, 1861 drenched the valley, raising the Kanawha river an estimated 3-4 feet per hour. By the time the river peaked at nearly 47 feet, the bulk of the area's salt industry was in ...more...