The year is 1813. The fledgling United States of America is in the throes of a war to re-establish its independence from Great Britain. Major city centers are under siege and battles are underway in the nation’s major waterways. But far from the ransacked capital city of Washington, D.C., Virginia’s William Dickinson, the great-grandson of an indentured servant, was looking to start a different sort of revolution.
Young Dickinson heard of a business opportunity on the frontier in the Kanawha Valley of Virginia, on the far side of the Allegheny Mountains. New settlers were apparently boiling brine from natural springs in the area to make salt. Now ubiquitous, salt during this era was still a very valuable commodity. So valuable, in fact, that the penniless war-time government used salt brine to pay soldiers in the field. Rumor of salt was enough to bring Dickinson to the isolated frontier.
For 18 long months, he and a partner dug and drilled for salt water deposits. Upon striking the deposits, Dickinson invested in “salt properties” along the Kanawha River, and was producing by 1817, shortly after the war ended. His company flourished to the point that the surrounding town of Malden (not Maldon) gained the nickname “the salt making capital of the east.”
Fast forward to present day. The great-great-great grandchildren (that’s seventh generation!) of William Dickinson, siblings Nancy Bruns and Lewis Payne, are carrying on his salty legacy. Nancy, a chef and former owner of a restaurant, and Lewis, a former lawyer, have worked in tandem to modernize the ancient practice of producing small-batch salt. By using natural and environmentally-friendly concepts, they still mine the depths of the pristine 400 million year-old salt sea as the original Dickinson did, evaporating the brine in sun-houses and hand-harvesting their impeccable finishing salt.
An incredible history that gives “going back to the salt mines” a whole new meaning.