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Salt Springs: Not Just Natural Beauty

Salt Springs holds a vast amount of history, but, due to limited access, still remains a hidden secret to most.

Tucked away within is a small tidal spring from which the park takes its name.

It holds a vast amount of history but remains a hidden secret to most passers-by.

Few realize or could ever imagine that Salt Springs was once the location of an active salt works that operated during the Civil War, curing the abundant saltwater into the precious commodity of salt.

During the Civil War, Florida was not only a main supplier of beef cattle to frontline Confederate troops but it was also one of the top producers of salt.

Prior to the invention of refrigerators, salt was used to preserve a variety of meats, such as pork, fish, and of course the beef cattle shipped to the frontline troops.

The war caused an increasing need for salt and all along Florida’s west coast, from Tampa Bay to the Choctawhatchee, small salt works popped up, typically consisting of home-made operations; although in north Florida there were several extensive, industrial-sized operations that prospered.

Historic research indicates that the local Salt Springs operation began sometime around 1862 through a partnership between Leroy G. Lesley, David Hope, and Aaron Ryals.

Between December 1863 and April 1864, Hope, Lesley, and Ryals advertised their valuable commodity in the Cotton States newspaper, with a state-wide distribution. Ads read:

Salt, Salt, Salt—The undersigned have and will try to keep on hand, at their salt works, 25 miles SW of Brooksville, Fla, a supply of salt.  They will sell salt for $10 per bushel and will give five dollars a bushel for corn. Or will give one bushel of salt for 2 of corn. The corn to be delivered at the residence of D. Hope or L.G. Lesley, both of whom live near the road leading from Brooksville to their salt works. Corn Wagons will have preference.

To put it into perspective, a bushel is equivalent to 35.24 liters. According to A Manual of Weights and Measures by Oscar Oldberg, 1889, a bushel of salt ranged in weight from 56 lbs. to 80 lbs., depending on its coarseness, and a bushel of shelled corn was a straight 56 lbs.

Wondering how they made salt from a little tidal hole behind the mall?

According to Salt and the Civil War in Florida by Dr. Joe Knetch, the average small salt plant consisted merely of a large kettle holding from sixty to one hundred gallons of water set in a brick or clay furnace, usually located inland and not built directly on the shore because of the high tides and wind.

The salt water, after being poured into the kettle, was boiled. When there was only a thick brine left, it was dipped from the kettle and was usually placed on clean boards to be dried and bleached by the sun.

Based on production amounts, our local salt works likely consisted of a homemade operation having several boiling kettles.

By 1863, the Union put a strain on the shipment of Florida’s beef cattle, and its raids severely impacted the production of salt, with the larger salt works becoming key targets. With no beef supply or salt to preserve it with, the food line for the Confederate Army was cut.

Between January and April 1864, with Ryals no longer a partner, Hope and Lesley decide to sell their salt works along with about 800 head of cattle, perhaps in an attempt to liquidate their assets to avoid the stiff Confederate Conscription Laws or a capture by raiding Union troops.

Conveniently located close to wood and water, and capable of producing 10 to 15 bushels per day, the price for the salt works alone was $8,000.

It's not known what happened to the local salt works following the advertisements, although in July 1864 Union troops raided the area with no mention of the facilities in their reports.

Today, Salt Springs is no longer the active salt production facility of the days past. Instead the property, allowed to return to its natural beauty, is now part of the coastal preserve known as the Werner-Boyce Salt Spring Park.

Fast Facts:

Salt Springs has a natural underwater cave system with a maximum depth of about 320 feet. This spring and cave system is currently closed to access and scuba diving.

Salt Springs consists of two large under water caves known as the Big Room and the Teeth Room to scuba diver.

The Big Room is reportedly the one of the largest underwater caves in Pasco County.

The Teeth Room contains numerous lime rock formations that protrude from the ceiling and floor, giving the appearance of large teeth.

Cave openings are at about 200 feet below the water’s surface.

As with most cave systems in Florida, cave divers have installed a series of life lines throughout the Salt Springs cave system, these lines followed while diving.

The spring forms an irregular opening in the side of a vertical rock wall just below the water’s surface.

Salt Springs discharges west about 100 feet to where the water flows under a 3-foot natural limestone bridge. After surfacing again, the water flows approximately 75 feet and flows under a second natural limestone bridge that is about 10 feet wide. From there, the water flows in vigorous boils through three holes until being discharged in the spring run, flowing to the gulf. Neither bridge is visible during high tide.

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