Popular Science Monthly/Volume 25/August 1884/The Salt-Deposits of Western New York



WYOMING County, in the State of New York, is bounded on the southeast by the wonderful gorge that has made famous the mighty leaps of the Genesee River at Portage. A few miles to the north is the plateau which holds the crystal waters of Silver Lake; while still farther to the north and west rise the head-waters of Oatka Creek, which flows in a northeasterly direction through the county of Genesee, and empties into the river of that name just before it comes to Rochester. The Oatka was formerly called Allen's Creek, after a resolute pioneer. The valley and the county were named Wyoming, from a striking similarity to the valley in Pennsylvania which once received the murderous visit of the savage, and which has been immortalized in the verse of Campbell. Warsaw, the shire-town of Wyoming, most romantically situated near the source of the creek, was called by the Indians "Chinose-heh-geh," or "on the side of the valley." The village of to-day numbers but twenty-five hundred inhabitants, although the region all about has been settled nearly one hundred years, and although a prominent railroad skirts the valley on either edge. All about is a most excellent farming-land, second only to the Genesee Valley. The butter and cheese are of the best quality, and they find a ready sale in Buffalo or in Rochester, either metropolis being less than fifty miles away. This valley, hitherto so peaceful, is now the center of a business activity that bids fair to be permanent, and that will reduce by one the number of staple articles for which the United States has hitherto depended upon foreign countries.

Over forty years ago extensive surveys were made from Oswego to Niagara, and salt-springs were found in many places. In the hollows toward Lake Ontario the brine was discovered in such quantities as to make unnecessary any additional salting of the cattle that were pastured in the vicinity. It was also discovered that salt might be found at the south of this belt, but not without considerable boring. No one, however, suspected that the valley would yield salt as far up as Warsaw. Therefore, when the Vacuum Oil Company, of Rochester, commenced to bore for oil at Wyoming, just north of Warsaw, the enterprise was thought to be only a natural extension of the oil-fields of Pennsylvania, which lie fifty miles or so to the southward. The man who directed the boring had been a boy in the Wyoming Valley, and he had enough faith in the existence of oil to lease the neighboring farms for ninety-nine years, with the agreement that he would put down a test-well; that, if successful, a well should go down on every man's farm; and that the owner of the farm should have one eighth of the product in every case. Oil was not found, but brine came up in sufficient quantities to show that the salt was there. The treasure was allowed to remain undisturbed until two years ago, when a well was sunk in Warsaw to a depth of thirteen hundred feet, where a bed of salt eighty-five feet thick was encountered. From this bed the Warsaw Salt Company has been drawing one hundred and fifty barrels of brine daily for the past year. Two miles below this is the well of the Crystal Salt Company, which, starting with a daily yield of fifty barrels, has now reached several hundred. On the eastern slope of the valley extensive works have been erected by Dr. Guionlock, who has had thirteen years' experience with the salt product at Goderich, in the Province of Ontario, and who prefers the Warsaw product to the other. Across the valley, on the western slope, is the well of another Warsaw company. In short, there are, within a radius of three miles of Warsaw, seven wells already down and three more in process of digging, the output of which when completed will be three thousand barrels daily, the output at Syracuse being but five thousand barrels daily.

The unexpected treasures found at Warsaw have added hundreds to its population, have increased real estate fifty per cent, and have secured a new railroad, the "Oatka Valley," in addition to the Rochester and Pittsburg, and the New York, Lake Erie and Western, and the Lehigh Valley, which are already there. The newly-laid tracks of the New York, Lackawanna and Western are only a dozen miles away. The hill-sides are covered with hard-wood timber, which can be converted into barrels. With this bright outlook it would not be strange if the people of Warsaw should picture to themselves a future labyrinth of salt-mines that might rival that of Austrian Galicia, with its saline church dedicated to St. Anthony. Even at this stage of the enterprise the men of Warsaw are said to keep one of their number on guard at the arrival of every train, lest some prospector should stray as far down the valley as Wyoming, Pavilion, Covington, or Le Roy, or even over the ridge to Greigsville. If they have their own way, no other spot aside from Warsaw will share in the benefits of the discovery; and from his elevated post on the magnificent soldiers' monument the stone sentinel will gaze defiantly on the surrounding towns. In such a case the poet sang of the sentinel as well as of Kosciusko:

"Warsaw's last champion from her heights surveyed,
Wide o'er the fields, a waste of ruin laid."

But are the men of Warsaw to have, what they naturally desire, a monopoly of the new salt production? It is evident that the average depth of the salt-bed thereabout is eighty feet, and that the depth of boring required to reach the bed becomes less as the prospector travels north. This southerly dip has given hopes to the dwellers about Rochester that the bed will be found much nearer the surface at that point—a fact that would lead to cheaper production, even if the thickness of the bed were less. Then, too, the dwellers east and west of the meridian line, upon which are located most of the wells bored thus far, are confident that salt will be found many miles away from the said line, and they have started "pointers," after the manner of the oil-country, to mark the limits of the territory. The geologists affirm that all the salt of Syracuse, Warsaw, Saginaw, and even of Wisconsin and Iowa, belongs to the Onondaga salt-group, and that it was deposited all over this extensive tract in a chain of land-locked lakes fed by occasional overflows from the ocean, and depositing their saline contents by evaporation. A similar process is now going on at the Runn of Cutch, of which Sir Charles Lyell says: "That successive layers of salt might be thrown down, one upon another, over thousands of square miles in such a region, is undeniable. The supply of water from the ocean would be as inexhaustible as the supply of heat from the sun for its evaporation." This theory will explain why the dip of the salt-strata of Western New York, added to the natural rise of the ground, makes a boring of fifteen hundred feet necessary at Warsaw, while at Salina a depth of only two hundred feet is required.

In this fact of the strata coming nearer the surface to the northward of them lies the danger to the hopes of the people of Warsaw. In many other respects they are warranted in believing that they have a bonanza. The "pointers" that have been already sunk and the unsuccessful experiments that have been made in former years show that the beds of rock-salt do not extend farther north than Caledonia, in Livingston County, nor farther south than Castile, in Wyoming County. The narrow strip within which the beds are confined runs from Onondaga County, on the east, through the counties of Cayuga, Seneca, Yates, Ontario, Livingston, and Wyoming, to Erie on the west.

The claim that the sign "Warsaw salt" represents a superior article appears to be well-founded—the brine having been analyzed with flattering results by Dr. Lattimore, of Rochester, and Dr. Englehart, State chemist, of Syracuse. The latter reports the specific gravity to be 1·205. The analysis of 100 parts is as follows: Sulphate of lime, ·257; chloride of calcium, ·068; chloride of magnesium, ·005; chloride of sodium, 26·300; pure water, 73·370. The exceptionally small proportion of the chlorides of calcium and magnesium will be noted, as well as the large proportion of pure salt which the recent superintendent of the Syracuse salt-springs declares entitles the Warsaw brine to rank as 100 to 66 for the Syracuse brine. An analysis of the manufactured article shows the following results:

Warsaw salt, No. 1. Warsaw salt, No. 2.
Soluble matter 0·104 0·013
Moisture 1·500 0·763
Sulphate of lime 1·464 0·956
Chloride of calcium 0·136 0·089
Chloride of magnesium 0·298 0·118
Pure salt 96·498 98·072
Total parts 100·000 100·000

It is stated that the superior strength of the Warsaw brine makes it possible for one ton of coal to produce more salt, by sixty-four cents' worth, than can be produced from the Syracuse brine. This fact, together with the falling off in the Syracuse output, has called marked attention to the Warsaw wells.

The product of salt from the Michigan wells is over 15,000,000 bushels annually, on which the profit is large because the fuel consists of slabs and sawdust, a mere nothing. An eminent authority—Dr. Mitchell—states that there are three sources of the salt-supply in Michigan: 1. In the coal-measures and in the white and porous Parma sandstone, which serves as a reservoir. 2. The "Michigan Salt-Group," which lies between the carboniferous limestone and the sandstones at the base of the carboniferous system. This group consists of various shales, magnesian limestone, and beds of pure gypsum. The material of the reservoir is Napoleon limestone. The depth of boring is 600 to 700 feet, and the total area of the territory is about 17,000 square miles. 3. The "Onondaga" or Salina Salt-Group, which lies 500 feet below the Michigan Salt-Group, and in which alone are found the beds of rock-salt. The most important well is that at Marine City, on the St. Clair River, the total depth being 1,633 feet, and the thickness of the salt-beds 115 feet. The well at Muskegon, on Lake Michigan, is 2,000 feet deep, and the thickness of the salt-beds is 50 feet. Other important wells are operated at Bay City and at Manistee.

Similar beds are found in the Province of Ontario, at Goderich, Huron County. They are in the Salina formation also, the depth averaging about 1,000 feet, and the thickness of the salt about 30 feet. Exceptionally deep wells have been driven to a depth of 1,600 feet through six layers of salt aggregating 125 feet in thickness. The salt area of Canada is estimated at 2,000 square miles, and the probable quantity of salt still in the beds is called 200,000,000,000 tons. The Canadian salt is superior to the Michigan salt in regard to the absence of the earthy chlorides, as the following analysis will show:

Goderich Salt East Saginaw Salt
Sulphate of lime 0·989 0·317
Chloride of calcium 0·134 0·356
Chloride of magnesium 0·124 0·141
Insoluble 0·037 0·000
Moisture 1·396 3·344
Loss 0·016 0·000
Pure salt 97·304 95·842
Total Parts 100·000 100·000

The salt-beds of Michigan underlie each other like a nest of saucers—the oldest being in the old dolomite limestones in the ancient Devonian ocean. Here alone we have the beds of pure rock-salt. As we come nearer the surface, the presence of the earthy chlorides is more marked, and the product is less valuable, because, by reason of its attracting more moisture from the air, it is rendered unfit for the dairy or the table unless it goes through a process of purification. The conclusion that we must reach, therefore, is, that the deeper the boring goes, the purer the salt will be, whether it is in Michigan or in New York. Following out the logical deduction of this conclusion, we must admit that while the outcroppings of salt toward the northern edge of the New York field might offer superior inducements in the way of securing the brine, yet the brine when secured would be so much weaker and more impure that the decreased cost of producing it would be more than offset. In other words, the brine that is reached at a depth of two hundred feet north of the Warsaw Valley offers no superior advantages to that which for many years has been reached at a similar depth on the reservation of the Onondaga Salt-Springs. In deep boring and pure salt lie the best hopes of the Warsaw product.

The relative value of brine from the various salt-producing localities is shown by the following table, which gives the number of gallons of brine required to make one bushel of salt:

Sea-water 300 to 350
Boone Lick, Missouri 450
Conemaugh, Pennsylvania 300
Jackson, Ohio 213
Lockhart's, Mississippi 180
St. Catharine's, Ontario 120
Zanesville, Ohio 95
Grand River, Arkansas 80
Kanawha, West Virginia 75
Montezuma, New York 70 to 50
Muskingum, Ohio 50
Onondaga, New York 45 to 30
Saginaw, Michigan 30 to 25
Goderich, Ontario 22
Warsaw, New York 20

Not only is it claimed that the Warsaw salt is superior to any other for the packing of meats and the uses of the dairy, but also that it is the sole product in the United States from which soda-ash can be manufactured. This article is used for bleaching, dyeing, soap-making, and several other processes. Hitherto it has been imported to the value of millions of dollars yearly, because no brine of sufficient strength could be found in the United States. Attempts to use the brine of Canada and Ohio have utterly failed. At last the brine of Syracuse was tried, and it was found that by being chemically treated and salted it would serve the purpose. Large amounts of capital are already invested in the strengthening of the Syracuse brine; but it is found that the Warsaw brine is strong enough to be used without any chemical treatment. Large investments, therefore, are making, in the Wyoming Valley, for the manufacture of soda-ash; and the success of these manufacturers will make the United States independent of every other country in regard to this commodity. Of course, the saltmen of Warsaw are as clear-cut protectionists as are their fellow-workers of Syracuse or Saginaw. The duty on foreign salt is eight cents per hundred, or twenty-two cents for a barrel of two hundred and eighty pounds. They argue that salt having dropped from one dollar and eighty cents a barrel in 1860, to seventy cents in 1882, the saving of one dollar and ten cents on a barrel has been an aggregate of seven million dollars to the people of the United States. To remove the tariff, they affirm, would be to raise the price, to shut down home industries, and to allow foreigners to make the money that should be kept in this country.

The outward appearance of a salt-well in the Wyoming Valley does not differ materially from that of a well in the "oil-country." We see the same derrick, of spruce or hemlock; the ponderous wooden walking-beam, half out-of-doors; the "bit," the "auger-stem," and all the other appliances for boring, together with the "pull-wheel" that hoists the whole apparatus from the hole; the forge hard by; the "sand-reel" that lowers the pump for clearing away the pulverized rock; and the "fishing-tools" and all other tools for clearing the well of bits of broken apparatus. A short distance from the derrick is a covered shanty which contains the engine, while the boiler is still farther away, and generally in the open air. With such an apparatus, the cost of boring is from seventy-five cents to one dollar per foot for operating expenses. The workmen serve in gangs—two for each twenty-four hours—and the wages are one dollar and fifty cents per day. The drill first strikes through thirty feet of heavy clay; then fifteen feet of slate or Marcellus shale; then one hunded and fifty feet of corniferous limestone; then fifty feet of hydraulic limestone; then about twelve hundred feet of saline shales, at the bottom of which is a stratum of salt averaging eighty feet in thickness. Still below this are the Niagara limestone and other members of the Niagara group.

The stratum of salt having been once pierced, a saturated solution of the saline matter frequently rises in the boring to within eighty feet of the surface. This, however, can not always be depended upon—and here center the increased difficulty and expense. When a few dozen feet have been drilled, a six or an eight inch iron pipe is inserted as a "casing." Inside of this a two-inch pipe—also of iron—is placed. The "casing-head" has two openings—one for the entrance of pure water from a neighboring spring into the larger pipe, at the lower end of which it becomes saturated with saline matter; the other at the end of the smaller pipe, to allow the expulsion of the brine. Of course, the wells become foul or leaky at times, and then resort is had to torpedoes of nitro-glycerine, which are sent down to the bottom of the "casing," and after them is sent an iron weight which secures the explosion. The rusting of the "casing" is the great enemy of the salt-worker; and, when his engine can not lift the mass of rusted iron, a "knife" cuts the rusted metal, and the engine tears it away piecemeal. But the salt-wells are exempt from any danger of taking fire; and it is never necessary, as in the case of oil-wells, to shoot off the "casing-head" with a cannon-ball.

After the brine has once reached the surface it is forced into large reservoirs, whence it is drawn off through "string" after "string" of "covers," until solar evaporation has left the coarser grades of salt. The "covers" or vats are usually sixteen by eighteen feet, and the product of each one per year is estimated at one hundred and fifty bushels; while the product at Syracuse is only about half that quantity. It is also claimed that the slope of the valley at Warsaw is peculiarly adapted to rapid evaporation by the sun. When the finer grades of salt are wanted, the brine is led from the reservoirs to an evaporating-pan, where a gentle heat is applied. Similar treatment in another pan completes the process, and the residuum of salt is raked upon a shelf at the side of the evaporator. After a slight draining it is taken to the bins, where a more thorough draining is allowed for a space of two or three weeks. The heat is applied to the evaporating-pans through steam-pipes, in the same manner that has been found most economical both at Saginaw and Syracuse. At Saginaw the fuel costs next to nothing, as it is the refuse of the lumber-mills; and the exhaust steam of the mills is also used for the pipes of the evaporating-pans. At Syracuse and at Warsaw the expense for fuel is greater, Warsaw using anthracite coal-dust, or "culm," at an expense of one dollar and sixty-five cents per ton. Whence, then, does Warsaw derive its hope for successful competition against Syracuse and Saginaw? The ever-ready answer is, that the strength of brine at Syracuse is sixty-six to one hundred at Warsaw—a difference that makes the cost of fuel twenty cents per barrel for Syracuse as against eight cents for Warsaw. In regard to the Saginaw brine, also, it is claimed that its residuum after evaporation is ninety-seven per cent of pure salt; while that of the Warsaw brine is one hundred—a difference which, if sustained, would amply cover the increased cost of fuel at Warsaw. The salt-men of Warsaw, too, have the greatest confidence that their borings for natural gas will result in giving them a fuel even cheaper than culm. The Warsaw men also declare that their own enterprises are on private land; and that they, therefore, have an advantage of the salt on the Syracuse reservations, every bushel of which must pay half a cent per bushel to the State. And they do not fail to call attention to the fact that the duty was one cent per bushel before the borings at Warsaw had proved a success. In short, they see no reason why Warsaw should not furnish a large share of the six million barrels of home-made salt that are required every year, even if Syracuse gives a million and a half and Saginaw three and a quarter millions toward the product.