The WVGenWeb Project

David Ruffner Letter to the Editor November 8, 1815


Kenawha Salt-Works


SIR-By you useful Register I observe that you are a great friend and patron of domestic manufacturers; and by your diligent attention to this important subject you have added considerably to the public stock of correct information, and no doubt promoted a laudable emulation to perfect and establish them. To aid in this good work, and add something to your collection of facts, I take the liberty to forward you a brief account of the discovery, situation and extent of the Kenawha Salt-Works.

At the first settlement of this place there was great Buffalo Lick (as it was then called) discovered, where some weak salt-water oozed out of the bank of the river. After some time, the inhabitants sank [hollow] gums into the sand and gravel at that place, into which the water collected; but it was so weak, that though sufficient quantities might be collected, not more than three or four bushels of salt were make in a day. After the property came into possession of my brother Joseph Ruffner and myself (by devise) we were desirous to see the effect of sinking large Sycamore gums as low down as we could force them. We found great difficulty in this, on account of the water coming in so rapidly. When we got down about eighteen feet below the surface of the river we discovered that our gums lodged on a solid, smooth freestone rock - and the water was but little improved as we descended. We then bored a hole in the rock of about 2 1/2 inches diameter - the size that is now generally used for the purpose. After we had penetrated the rock eighteen or twenty feet we struck upon a vein of water much saltier than any that had ever been obtained in this place. Our neighbors followed our example, and generally succeeded in obtaining good salt water, to the distance of two and an half mile below, and four miles above us, on the river. They all have to sink the gums about eighteen feet, where they come to the rock, into which they bore a hold from on to two hundred feet deep. The rock is never perforated through, the water weeps into the hole at soft and porous places; but no cavities are ever found in it. The cost of boring is from three to four dollars per foot, and each well produces, on average, a sufficient quantity of water to make 300 bushels of salt per day. the first water that is struck in the auger hole is generally fresh, or salt water of an inferior quality, which is excluded by means of copper or tin tubes put down into the auger hold, and so secured that none of the water which comes in above the lower end of the tube can discharge itself into the gum, which has a bottom put into it immediately upon the rock, and is secured in such a manner that no water can get into it except that which comes up the tube from below. The water thus gathered in the gum will rise about as high as the surface of the river at low water mark; and it requires from 70 to 100 gallons of it to make a bushel of salt.

There are now established and in operation here, fifty-two furnaces (any many are erecting) containing from 40 to 60 kettles of 36 gallons each-all which make from 2500 to 3000 bushels of salt per day. The quantity may be increased as the demand shall justify

Fire wood, in the course of time, must become scarce or difficult to get-but stone coal may be used instead of it, and of this our stock is inexhaustible.

These works are situated six miles above Charleston, Kanawha Court House; 66 miles from the mouth of the river, (Kanawha,] and 26 below the great falls. The river is navigable, with a gently current, at all seasons of the year, for boats drawing two feet water, and at most seasons for boats of size. Your obedient humble servant,

DAVID RUFFNER. Kanawha Salt-works, November 8, 1815

Submitted for your benefit by Bill Myers on 6:31 AM 2/25/98

Mr. Myers is a descendent of Joseph Ruffner II (brother of David). In the course of his investigation (while in Cincinnati, where Joseph II ultimately moved) He ran into a Cincinnati writer and historian by the name of Richard Scamyhorn. He sent him a copy of the above article. E-mail:

Back to Kanawha County Salt Industry