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Mercer Saltworks

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Marker commemorating saltworks on WV Route 20
Located along New River at the mouth of Lick Creek in southern Summers County, Mercer Saltworks (or Mercer Salt Works) provided salt for use through the nearby valley and adjacent areas. Saltwell Ridge, to the southwest, takes its name from the works. During the Civil War, on August 10, 1862, U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes, later U.S. president, ordered calvary members of the 23 Ohio Regiment encamped near the mouth of the Bluestone River to ride south and destroy the works. Lick Creek takes its name from the salt lick near its mouth that was eventually developed as a salt well. The well was originally located in Mercer County, but fell within the boundaries of Summers when that county was established in 1871.

Historian Kyle McCormick states in his book "The New-Kanawha River and The Mine War of West Virginia" (1959), that the calvary reached the saltworks at 2 a.m., found it "going full blast, with steam operation," and it was "burned out root and branch." One volley was fired, then the salt works was burned to the ground. No one was hurt, but three horses were badly wounded, according to McCormick.

Hayes himself described the attack on the Mercer Saltwork in two diary entries, published in "The Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Volume 2" (1922):

August 9. Saturday. - Am planning an expedition to go to Salt Well and destroy it; also to catch old Crump if he is at home... I send out today Company E, thirty-nine men, K, twenty-seven men, H, about thirty men, and a squad of men from A, I, and C of twenty-seven men, and about twenty-five cavalry to stop the salt well in Mercer, twenty miles above here. Total force about one hundred and fifty men. They go up to Crump's Bottom, catch him if they can, take his canoe and the ferry-boat and destroy the Mercer salt well. This is the programme...

Sunday, August 10, 1862, 9:30 A.M. - Captain Drake and Gilmore's Cavalry have returned. The infantry are bathing in Bluestone. The expedition was completely successful, and was of more importance than I supposed it would be. They reached the salt well about 2:30 A. M.; found the works in full blast -- a good engine pumping, two pans thirty feet long boiling, etc., etc. The salt is good; considerable salt was on hand. All the works were destroyed by fire. A canoe found at Crump's was taken to the ferry.

Little may be readily found of the ruins of the saltworks today, though deer still visit the salty earth nearby. The site is now protected within the territory of the Bluestone Lake WMA.