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SALT WELLS AND WORKS.
By the act of Congress proposing terms to the Legislature of Michigan for the admission of the Territory into the Union as a State, June 23, 1836, it was provided that salt springs within the State, not exceeding twelve in number, with six sections of land adjoining, should be granted to the State for its use. The selections were to be made by the Legislature, and this was done solely from surface indications. March 4, 1838, the Legislature passed an act directing the State Geologist to commence boring for salt as soon as practical at one or more of the State salt springs, and appropriated $3,000 to defray the expenses. Two points were selected, one about three miles below the village of Grand Rapids, the other at the mouth of the Salt River on the Tittabiwassee. In his report to the Legislature, January 1, 1839, the Geologist stated that there had been expended on Grand River works $1,766.52, and at Salt River $2,118.67--which was $886.19 in excess of the appropriation. In 1840 a further appropriation of $5,000 was made for the Grand River test. The State Geologist, Dr. Douglass Houghton, made a contract with Lucius Lyon to sink a well where the previous preparations had been made, at the river bank, on Section 3, Town 6 North, Range 12 West. It was near where is now the southern landing of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad bridge below this city. Lyon went down 300 feet--as far as his contract required. It cost the State $5,000. In a published letter, he subsequently stated that at the bottom he found the salt water much stronger than that found in his own well here at the same depth. At a later date the State well was sunk to a depth of 473 feet, after which the work was placed in charge of John Ball, and the boring continued to the depth of 700 feet or more, when the well became clogged by the losing of the drill therein, and that enterprise was ended, The State making no further effort for its continuance. There was an impression current at the time, undoubtedly without foundation, that the stopping of the well was intentional, and by the procurement or incitement fo parties interested in the boring at the rapids, where Lyon's salt works were already mined under process of construction.
Lucius Lyon had such faith that he was willing to risk some capital in salt. In the fall of 1839 he engaged Ansel Hulbett, an experienced Pennsylvania well borer, and his two sons, to sink a deep well here. Their confidence was strengthened by the opinion of the State Geologist, Dr. Houghton, and they went to work with strong hope of success. In August, 1841, the well, averaging about three inches and a half in diameter, had been sunk to the depth of 661 feet. On putting down a copper tube 360 feet, water flowed from it more than one-third saturated with salt, rising to a height of twenty feet above the surface of the ground, at the rate of about 10,000 gallons daily. This was about two-thirds the strength of the brine then produced at Salina, New York. The well was at the river bank, east side, about seventy-five feet above Bridge street. This outcome was not only gratifying to Mr. Lyon but to the men who drilled the well, as they had taken a portion of the risk of its cost, to the extent of asking nothing for their labor if unsuccessful. Evaporating and boiling works for the reduction of the brine were immediately constructed, and began turning out salt in the middle of March, 1842, this advertisement having appeared in the meantime:
SALT EXCHANGED FOR WOOD!
The undersigned having rented the Grand Rapids Salt Works, now erecting, will give for good hard WOOD, well corded up at said works in quantities of not less than five cords, one hundred and thirty pounds of salt per cord, to be paid at any time when called for after the expiration of three months from the date of the delivery of the wood. The wood must be four feet long, and well split into suitable size for salt boiling, and delivered before the first day of June next.
Farmers will do well to embrace this offer, as they cannot now get more than ninety pounds of salt for a cord of wood.
---T. H. Lyon
Grand Rapids, Jan. 10, 1842
Truman H. Lyon carried on the manufacture for a short time, and in the following November was making salt at the rate of about fifty bushels per day, using all the water that came from the well. About 1846, James Allen and Carlton Neal were running the works, then for a year or two, Joseph Cordes and Michael Thome, and after them Lucius A. Thayer. About 1849 or 1850, an effort to remove the piping for repairs was made, the well caved in and the works were stopped. A stream of water is still running from that hole-in-the-ground into the river, carrying considerable salt, but not so strong as the original flow.
Salt making in Grand Rapids was at an end for the time being, and there was a feeling of disappointment. While the works were in operation, salt had been sold for $1.50 per barrel, and sometimes as low as twenty-five cents per bushel, which was a reduction of about fifty per cent, from prices that had prevailed for imported salt. The brush pile at the boiling works, some distance up stream, stood for a number of years and went to decay.
A short time after their completion of the Lyon well (about 1844), the Hulberts went to White River and began sinking another near a large salt spring some ten or twelve miles up that stream. It was a failure. They bored to the depth of about eighty feet, when the drill struck fast and they abandoned the work.
In 1859, the Legislature passed an act to exempt property used for sinking wells for salt making from taxation, and bestowing a bounty of ten cents a bushel for the manufacture; providing, however, that any company or individual should produce at least 5,000 bushels before the bounty should be paid. This infused new life into the efforts for the manufacture. In September, 1859, the Grand Rapids Salt Manufacturing Company, of which James Scribner was the moving spirit, had sunk a well to the depth of 130 feet near Coldbrook, and found brine of considerable strength. Boring at this well was continued to a depth of 260 feet, striking granite rock. The State Geologist expressed the opinion that it would be of little or no use to go deeper, also that there was reason to hope that the enterprise would prove pecuniarily successful. But in the following spring it was put down to a depth of 398 1/2 feet. June 13, 1860, the works were running, and soon producing salt at a rate of thirty or forty barrels per day. They began shipment over the Detroit and Milwaukee Railroad July 28, 1860. The works at this well were built much like those which had been used at the Lyon well. Brush houses were constructed, consisting of timber frame work some forty feet high, in which were placed layers of brush, with a slight inclination first toward one side and then the other. To the top of this pile salt water was pumped, and ran down slowly through six tiers of brush, and thence to the kettles or pans where the evaporation was completed by boiling. Several hundred barrels were manufactured here, but the work proved unprofitable, and was abandoned during the war.
The Grand River Salt Company was organized in 1859, by William T. Powers, Henry Martin, and F. P. Leonard, and sank a well near the west bank of the river, north of Leonard street, stopping at a depth of 156 feet, having obtained brine of very near full saturation. It was reported that a bushel of salt was made from thirty-two gallons, and that it was the strongest brine found by boring in any part of the United States. It did not rise to the surface, and the supply was limited. The curious phenomenon of the well--irregularity and small quantity of the flow---was probably owing to the smallness or thinness of the stratum of salt-bearing rock from which it came. Considerable salt was manufactured there, but the supply was insufficient for profit, and the works were operated but a short time.
About the same time two other salt wells were made: one by the Indian Mill Creek Salt Company, some thirty rods north of the Powers well, the other by Jacob W. Winsor, still further north beyond the city line, and between the river and where now run the railroad tracks. At all these west side wells the evaporation was mostly done by boiling. The Indian Mill Creek well was sunk 434 feet, first striking salt water at 128 feet. Winsor's well reached brine at 164 feet, and was carried to a depth of 466 feet. The latter was bored in the summer of 1860.
Richard E. Butterworth began a well in December, 1859, under the building in which the Butterworth & Lowe Shops are situated at the foot of the canal, which he sunk to a depth of 490 feet, striking brine of 22 degrees saturation at 325 feet. The first brine was struck at 57 feet and at 129 feet it was of sufficient strength to produce a bushel of salt to 95 gallons. At 261 feet, the flow of water was at the rate of 350 gallons a minute. Mr. Butterworth soon abandoned the idea of making salt at his well, and erected mineral bath houses on the opposite side of Huron street, which were in operation for a few years, supplying them from a current of strongly impregnated mineral water which came from his well with sufficient pressure to carry it into the top of the building.
In 1860 the Kent Salt Manufacturing Company, with a capital stock of $15,000, was organized by Daniel Ball, Sarell Wood, William A. Richmond, Richard E. Butterworth, George K. Johnson, Robert P. Sinclair, Andrew T. McReynolds, Charles H. Stewart and John Bowne---President, A. W. Richmond; Vice President, Sarrell Wood, Secretary and Treasurer, R. P. Sinclair. These gentlemen had the project in view of going deeper than had yet been done in search of salt, and for that purpose to sink a well somewhere north of Bridge street. The coming on of the war impeded operations and not much was done by this company. But about this time Charles W. Taylor bored to a depth of near 700 feet, just below the dam on Coldbrook, and stopped for want of funds. In 1864, William T. Powers and others interested themselves to obtain subscriptions for the purpose of sinking a test well, 1,500 feet if necessary, to procure water of the requisite strength for profitable manufacture. Twenty-three prominent businessmen subscribed $1,500, and William B. Ledyard was made treasurer of the fund. This boring was started a few feet from the Taylor well, and, after going down nearly 1,200 feet, the caving in of the latter stopped further work. First and last, and with much courage, a large amount of money was spent in these enterprises, but the conclusion was finally reached that, against the resources and better facilities of other parts of the State, further struggle for successful salt manufacture here would be useless.
Condensed from the records of borings at these wells, a summary shows: At the State well, brackish water was found at a depth of 68 feet; brine of pretty good strength at 265 feet, and again at 445 feet; total depth, according to John Ball's recollection, about 723 feet. The Lyon well was 661 feet deep, about 40 feet below the sea level; at 76 feet was a flow of fresh water; at 99 feet indications of salt, and a large flow at 264; at 445 strong salt water. At the Scribner well, salt water at 207 feet; total depth, 398 1/2 feet. Powers well, stopped in strong salt water at 156 feet. Butterworth well, salt at 129 feet; boring continued to the depth of 490 feet. Indian Mill Creek Company's well, brine at 128 feet; full depth, 434 feet. Winsor well, depth 436 feet; brine at 164 feet. Salt making at this point may be set down among the extinct industries. But those who tried it had the satisfaction of much experiment and "great expectations."