J.D. Dickinson Salt-Works, Malden, W.V.
A little over the Ohio border, just south of Charleston, WV, the modern day J.D. Dickinson Salt-Works is run by seventh-generation decedents of William Dickinson siblings Nancy Bruns and Lewis Payne. Their business mines and sells a unique, organic, small-batch finishing salt – that is salt one sprinkles directly on prepared foods, of which there are many varieties and flavors that apparently vary from region to region like wines do. Tours of the facility are available by appointment – the family suggests visiting in between spring and autumn when salt production is in full swing and the landscape is blooming.
The family business began with William Dickinson who came to the Allegheny Mountains sometime before 1813. Dickinson’s entrepreneurial spirit saw potential when he observed the locals reducing spring water by boiling to collect the salt. He purchased in “salt properties” near the Kanawha River in Appalachian Mountains and had become a “salt man” by 1817. His flourishing business earned Malden the title of “the salt making capital of the east”.
Dickinson and his brother-in-law Joel Shrewsbury constructed the first salt well out of a hollowed out tree trunk. This first well focused on producing salt for curing meats and fish—which would have been more profitable at the time. At its peak Dickinson’s salt business employed two hundred people and concentrated on producing industrial salt products.
Today his decedents continue his entrepreneurial tradition, using natural processes and hand made tools to create an artisan product.