J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works

Seventh Generation Salt Makers Preserving History.

Text by Ginny Heard

One of the basic human tastes, salt is essential when it comes to food, for its flavor as well as its preservative qualities. In a small town in West Virginia, one family is picking up the trade that their ancestors laid down and realizing that their delicious salt preserves much more than food.

Siblings Nancy Bruns and Louis Payne are in the seventh generation of a salt-making family in the river town of Malden, located in the Kanawha River Valley, just outside Charleston. Their family started making salt in 1817 when their ancestor William Dickinson invested in properties along the Kanawha River where he had heard of people boiling brine from nearby springs for the resulting salt. These springs bubbled forth from the Iapetus Ocean, an ancient, untouched sea trapped below the Appalachian Mountains.

Dickinson drilled for the brine, using hollowed-out tree trunks for piping, and became one of the first major salt producers in the town that grew to be known as the “salt making capital of the east.” Massive growth in the salt industry was fueled by the meatpacking industry in Cincinnati in the 1800s and early 1900s. J.Q. Dickinson Company was soon one of 50 different manufacturers tapping the same source. With more than 100 wells in the valley, the salt harvesters produced three million bushels of salt a year.


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