The first successful attempt to manufacture salt in Michigan was made by the East Saginaw Salt Manufacturing Company in 1859. The success of this company led to the rapid development of the industry in the Saginaw Valley where the blocks were operated in connection with sawmills.
The industry soon spread to Midland and St. Louis and the lumbering towns on the shores of Lake Huron. Towns such as Caseville, Port Crescent, Port Austin, New River, Port Hope, Harbor Beach, and White Rock on the south side of Saginaw Bay; and Tawas City, East Tawas, Au Sable, and Oscoda to the north all started salt operations. A salt well was sunk in Bay Port but never had any production. By 1888 there were 127 companies listed in Michigan producing 5.2 million barrels of salt annually. Michigan produced almost half of the nation’s salt in the 1870–1880s.
Salt Production In Huron County Michigan
The availability of salt deposits in the Thumb has been evident since ancient times. The SandRidge Indian Trail which started near Saginaw and wound its way around the Thumb to Harbor Beach was known as a path in which to access rich hunting and fishing areas of the area. It also provided access to three salt licks that attracted the game.
The first salt well in Huron county was sunk by Ayres and Co., at Port Austin in 1863. Later a salt block was erected, and the industry gradually spread to Caseville, Port Crescent, Grindstone City, New River (1874), Port Hope (1874), Harbor Beach, (aka Sand Beach 1876), and White Rock (1872). A 2000 footwell and block was also erected at Old Bay Port but was never in operation.
The brine wells extracted from the Berea sandstone which occurs at depths varying from 495 feet at White Rock to 1,770 feet at Caseville.
The Salt Industry Declines in the Thumb
That the salt industry was very largely dependent upon lumbering operations. The salt block operations depended on the sawdust, bark, and trimmings from the sawmills for fuel. Wood fuel for steam and pan evaporation lasted until the forests were gone, as a result, when lumbering ceased major operations in the Thumb it became too costly to used alternative fuel such as coal.
All salt production operations from the 14 companies ceased in Huron county in 1896, therefore by the early 1900s all the lakeshore plants had disappeared. Towns such as Port Crescent and New River no longer existed.
Originally published at https://thumbwind.com on December 22, 2018.