The Old Salt Basins

Nearly twenty years before active settlement started in Lancaster County the salt basins were known to white men through the legends of the Indians. A report in 1838 by John T. Irving, Jr., a U.S. Commissioner sent out by the government to settle some Indian disputes in this section sets forth in detail an Indian legend describing them. It was not, however, until 1856 when U.S. Government surveyors working in this district brought them prominently to the attention of the public. For the next thirty years the Salt basins played an important part in the development of this part of the country.

They were means of attracting many of the early settlers this way. The glamour of great wealth to be made by extracting salt from the briny water pouring forth out of the salt springs situated at intervals in the Basins was a potent influence in the minds of many.

Salt companies for the manufacture of salt were formed as early as 1853, but no definite operations were started until the early 60’s. Several small salt works were established and some of them did a thriving business for a time. One small company manufactured over 125,000 pounds of salt in a single year. During this period salt from the Salt Basins found a ready market in the towns and cities of the eastern part of the State. They also served as the source of supply for most early settlers in this region.

Numerous efforts were made during the latter 60’s to put the salt manufacturing business of the district on a real commercial basis. It was found, however, that the evaporation method required for extraction of the salt was too costly in competition with eastern salt manufacturing, so the story of the various enterprises is one failure after another. The last big effort was made in 1886 when a well was sunk to a distance of over 2000 feet. The result of the experiment was a distinct disappointment, so that no further efforts have been made to develop the saline deposits of Lancaster County into a prosperous industry for the city and the state. One of the largest basins has since been converted into Salt Lake on the shores of which has been operated for over thirty years as a successful pleasure resort making true the prophecy of C.H. Gere, made in 1867, that some day “the basin shall become a fashionable watering place, where salt water baths will be indulged in without danger from hungry sharks or receding water.”