There hasn’t been a lot of attention paid, over the decades, to an early mineral extraction industry.
Few people know about the salt industry. And even less is known about the people who worked in it.
But that’s changing, thanks to renewed interest at both the state and local level in Kanawha County.
The inaugural BB&T Malden Salt Fest begins tonight and continues through Sunday at the J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works facility. It is family-owned and operated producer of small batch, hand-harvested salt.
It will kickoff with a dinner for descendants of anyone who was involved in this industry.
Saturday’s activities will begin with a parade at 10:30 a.m. Other assorted cultural activities will include lectures, films, music and dancing.
Re-enactment of the salt-making process by original settlers in the Kanawha County community will also take place.
A service will be held Sunday morning at the African Zion Church, complete with gospel singing.
The Springhill Cemetery will also be open for tours of the grounds where the salt makers’ and their descendents are buried.
Prior to this weekend’s fun, oral histories have been taken from folks with ties to the industry, according to Emily Hilliard, state folklorist, West Virginia Humanities Council.
There’s been a good response so far.
One came from a man who worked at a store on the Dickinson Salt property.
“They weren’t making salt at the time but were instead working in the chemical industry at that point. He had a lot of stories of working in essentially what was a company store,” she said.
“Another woman believes one of her ancestors was enslaved on this property, and is trying to confirm that connection. But slaves didn’t have last names, and there are very few papers to 100 percent confirm that.”
A South Carolina resident did a telephone interview. His family was among the founders of Charleston and worked in conjunction with the salt industry, she said.
That work will continue Saturday, but is by appointment only.
“The festival asked us to get involved because they wanted to do some documentation and stories from salt workers’ descendants. That includes slaves as well as other workers,” she said.
“Booker T. Washington was one of the enslaved people who worked in the salt industry, but he definitely wasn’t the only one.”
The finished works will be available for the public to listen to, she said.
They will be sent to West Virginia University’s library and also state archives because the work is being done with the Department of Culture and History.
Anyone interested in participating in this history project can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org