Capitol Beach Caps an Inexhaustible Salt Reservoir

The Lincoln Journal Star, July 1, 1923


by C.G. Bullock
The state of Nebraska is about 400 miles long and nearly 200 miles wide, having about 77,000 square miles. There are but a few great natural wonders in the state. The most noted one is what was called in the early days “The Great Salt Lake,” and later known as “Burlington Beach,” a pleasure resort. It was the “Great Salt Lake” that located the capital here. It would have been located a good many miles to the northwest of Lincoln if the salt lake had not been here. The development of the salt lake was in the air at that time. Tichner and Green got a twenty year lease of the state on the salt lake and sold three-fourths interest in the lease to Horace Smith of Smith and Wesson pistol manufacturing company of Springfield, Mass., for $30,000.

Smith commenced at once spending a large amount of money to build a plant to manufacture salt. J. Sterling Morton of Nebraska City commenced a suit of ejectment and this stopped the building of the plant. I got the twenty year lease in April 1873, and made salt in a small way for about twelve years, with that portion of the plant that was built before the ejectment suit was commenced. During the twelve years that I was making salt I gained more definite knowledge of just what the salt lake was than anyone had before the year 1873, or during all the years up to and including 1922. I presume that I am the only person living that knows just what the salt was in 1873 and what it is at this date, June 25, 1923. I will give a complete description of the salt lake or what should be called the salt springs. It is located about one and half miles west of the Burlington depot at Seventh and P streets, Lincoln. The lake covers about 500 acres on which no grass or vegetation can or will grow. During the twelve years that I was making salt there was no fresh water on the 500 acres except for rainfall and the back-water from Salt Creek during flood times. The most of the 500 acres was covered with a briny foam formation and was firm enough to walk on but not to drive a team on. One the northeast portion of the lake there was form 50 to 60 acres where the clay had washed in on the sandy loam formation and made it firm enough to drive a team and wagon on. During dry weather a crust of salt would form on the 50 or 60 acres and when the weather was dry for a considerable length of time, the crust of salt would form sometimes to one inch in thickness. The Indians would come from a long distance and scrape the salt and take it away. During the Civil War people would come from Iowa and scrape the salt and haul it away.

How Salt Was Made.

The way the salt was made during the twelve years that I made salt was about as follows: The surface of the 500 acres of the lake was generally about level; there was a small depression or ravine running across the 500 acres from the northwest to the southeast where it emptied into Salt Creek. There was and is an upward-bound pressure of brine under every square foot of the 500 acres. This brine would come up on the surface of the lake and flow into the ravine and if not used for making salt it would flow into Salt Creek. The plant that I had for making salt had not the capacity to use more than one gallon of brine out of every thousand gallons that was flowing into Salt Creek. This brine had an average salameter test of from 25 to 30 degrees of strength. In order to strengthen the 25 to 30 degree brine to complete saturation or 100 degree brine I will illustrate by taking one acre of the surface of the lake bordering on the ravine in such a way as to be able to flow brine from the ravine onto the one acre to a dept of 6 to 8 inches.

I would make a mud embankment around the acres about one foot high to hold the 6 to 8 inches of brine in on the one acre, and if I remember right from 3 to 4 days of ordinary sunshine the brine would be reduced to a complete saturation or 100 degree brine. The brine would be drawn from the one acre to a sump where it could be pumped into a storage tank and rained form the storage tank into vats where the brine could be dried down into salt. I had enough of the surface of the lake divided into sections as described above to keep the plant supplied with strong brine. I have stated above that there was in 1873 and is today an upward bound pressure of brine under every square foot of the surface of the 500 acres, and if there was an opening made in the dam at the lower end of the lake to let the fresh water off the lake the brine would come up through the surface and run off into Salt Creek the same as it did in 1878 when I was making salt.

State Experimented.

The fact that brine forced its way up through the hard covering of the 50 to 60 acres in the northeast part of the lake and formed into a crust of salt covering the 50 to 60 acres, sometimes more than one inch in thickness is absolute physical proof that there is an upward bound pressure of brine under every square foot of the lake of 500 acres. I do not stop here with the tangible physical proof as shown above. There is proof much more convincing than is shown above. The state paid out about $30,000 to have a well put down at the lake during the years of 1887 and 1888. This well was put down 2463 feet deep. There was an accurate account kept of the thickness of each layer of the material that the well went through.

I will quote the report of Byron T. Russell, geologist in charge, to the board of public land and buildings, December 1, 1888: “In this stratum, from 195 feet to 205 feet, the strongest brine of the entire well was found. It tested on an average 35 degrees by the salometer and on several occasions observed to reach nearly 40 degrees. The supply was practically inexhaustible and in order that it might have a most thorough testing it was pumped at the rate of 40 gallons per minute for twenty consecutive hours. This had no appreciable effect. All the strata above this are permeable to brine and it is my belief that the small springs upon the lake are caused by this brine passing upward and finally reaching the surface. We know that there is pressure sufficient to raise this brine to the level of the lake, for in the pipes it raised three feet above the surface of the lake.” The section quoted proven beyond all controversy that there is an upward bound pressure of brine under every square foot of the lake or the 500 acres. It also proves that there is a lake of 35 to 40 degree brine 205 feet deep of the same dimension as the lake or 500 acres with the brine coming from the ten foot layer of coarse and gravel that is located between 195 feet to 205 feet deep. The brine in the 10 foot level of coarse sand and gravel at 205 feet is under pressure that forces it up through the 205 feet of layers of sand and gravel to the surface of the lake and three feet above the surface of the lake of 500 acres.

Had He Known.

While I was manufacturing salt during the years 1873 to 1885 my knowledge of the formation of the lake was limited to the surface of the lake. I had no knowledge of the formation below the surface of the lake. When I read the report issued by the board of public lands and buildings describing the various formations of the 2463 feet deep well, I was surprised beyond measure to find that I had been manufacturing salt for twelve years right on the top of the lake of brine that was 205 feet deep. Its other dimension were the same as the lake covering the 500 acres. The report of the board was issued about three years after I had quit manufacturing salt. If I had read that report before I quit manufacturing salt there would be going on today over there at the lake or Capitol Beach one of the largest salt manufacturing propositions in the whole country. There are several physical conditions to support the statements that have made above.

First: There is a pocket covering about 500 acres nearly a mile wide having a depth of 205 feet with the brine coming in through a ten foot layer of coarse sand and gravel at the depth of 195 feet to 205 feet. This brine comes in at the bottom of the pocket and flows over at the top of the pocket and if not used would run off into Salt Creek.

Second: There is a surface or, it might be called a floor, covering the 500 acres that can be used to strengthen the 35 to 40 degree brine to 100 degree brine without very much expense.

Third: Vats can be built flat on the surface of the lake at a small expense. The 35 to 40 degree brine can be derived down into salt in these vats at an expense of a few cents per barrel of salt.

Fourth: The salt that has been made in the past at the lake was made from brine taken from the surface of the lake. In the future the brine will be pumped from the ten foot layer of coarse sand and gravel down at the 205 foot level. The expense of pumping will be very small as the gravity pressure on the brine at the 205 foot level will force the brine up to the surface of the lake and three feet above the level of the lake. The pumping will not be very expensive because it will only have to elevate the brine four or five feet for the purpose of distribution of the brine to the various places where the brine will be dried down into salt. There will be a great saving by taking the brine at the 205 foot level as the brine at that level will be much stronger than at the surface of the lake. The difference will be about fifteen degrees, that is, the brine at the surface of the lake would be about 25 degrees and at the 205 foot level 40 degrees. The lake or 500 acres of springs are there to stay, the same as they were in 1873, and can be developed into one of the largest salt manufacturing propositions in the whole country. For years there have been parties trying in every conceivable way to acquire the 500 acres of salt springs. The constitution of the state of Nebraska says “that the salt springs can never be alienated,” so that any deed or proposed chattel of any kind to any part of the five hundred acres of salt springs is not worth the paper that it is written on.

Fifth: The market for the salt would cover a large section of the country. Lincoln gets some of its supply of salt from Michigan, but the most of it comes from Hutchinson, Kansas. There must not be anything done to injure the lake for the salt making purposes. The pleasure resort must not dump its sewage into Salt Lake. The parties that took land and gravel from the lake must not take any more sand or gravel from the lake. Oak Creek must not be connected up with the lake to make any kind of a channel across the lake, or to bring mud onto the lake. Mr. Swanson, land and building commissioner, should see to it that the lake is not injured for salt making purposes and publicly notify the parties mentioned above.