Renrock, Ohio -- Source(s) of Salt

Thomas Dye, the eldest son of Ezekiel and Elizabeth Cox Dey/Dye, was born in 1781 in Middlesex County, New Jersey. He moved to what would be known as the Dye Settlement (later named Renrock) in 1805.

As the oldest of Ezekial Dey's sons to settle in Ohio, much of the responsibility for the earliest settlers needs would have fallen to him."

In her geanealogical notes Regina Berry notes that Thomas Dye also had to travel to Waterford to get salt for the settlement. [There are two towns named Waterford in Ohio. The closest is in Washington County. On the map to the right Renrock is the X at the top of the map (on the boundary between Morgan and Noble Counties) and Waterford is the X 13 miles south in northern Washington County. Confirmation of this site as the source of the community salt and the general geology of the region is currently being investigated.]

Marjorie Choate Kinkade has helped to provide some interesting background on salt deposits of Noble County, Ohio (formed from part of Morgan County, Ohio in 1850). The History of Noble County, Ohio (1887), notes that salt was a primary staple of the early settlers in Ohio. As the first settlers established themselves, salt was brought from the east on pack horses at a cost of acout $0.20 a pound. It is said thatthe first salt produced in this part of Ohio was made by a party from Marietta in 1794 a short distance from Chillicothe. The site was identified by a former prisoner of the local Indians. In 1795 a similar deposit was discovered on Salt Creek in Muskingum County, about 15 miles from the Dye Settlement. In 1796 a company was formed at Marietta with total capital of $75.00. Twenty-four kettles were bought in Pittsburgh and transported to Duncan's Falls in Muskingum County.

The kettles were filled with the salty water and heated. Approximately 90% of the starting volume must be removed (in this case by boiling the water) until salt precipitates. Approximately 100 pounds of salt could be produced in 24 hours from about 3,600 gallons of water. The Muskingum County workings were abondoned before 1800.

Around 1800 Silas Thorla (born about 1785) and some of his family moved into the area around Olive, Morgan County, about 3 miles east of the Dye Settlement. Silas was the son of J. T. Thurlow who was born in Massachusetts and served in the Revolutionary War. J.T. and his wife had three sons:

  1. Richard - the grandfather of Silas Thorla who wrote many of the articles featured on these pages. Silas Thorla's wife Ella Dickinson was the grandaughter of Achsah Dye and the great grandaughter of Thomas Dye.

  2. Benjamin Thorla was a surveyor and was involved in the preparation of what came to be called the Dye Road in Morgan County. Three of Benjamin's daughters married three of the sons of William Polk and Sarah Dye Willey. Sarah was the daughter of Benjamin and Sarah Lemley Dye and Benjamin was the son of James and Sarah Leach Dey. Thus, Silas was related to the Deys/Dyes in two directions -- by marriage and by blood.

  3. Silas married Susannah Sweet and their daughter Ruth married Robert McKee who became a partner with his father-in-law in the development of a salt "mine" in Olive, Ohio. Silas also had a son named Silas and at least one reference argues that Robert McKee and salt miner Silas were brothers-in-law.

Silas had spent some time at the Kanawah, West Virginia salt deposits. Much of the salt used in southeastern Ohio came from this salt-works. Silas introduced the technology in Olive around 1814. This would have been about 9 years after Ezekiel and Thomas Dye moved to Ohio. Given the fact that the Dye Settlement and Olive are only 3 miles apart, it is likely that the Dyes purchased salt from Silas Thorla and Robert McKee. Prior to that time the assumption remains that Thomas traveled to Waterford, Washington County, Ohio to obtain the salt that the community had to have to preserve meat.

In 1814 salt sold for about $2.00 per bushel. Silas, using a spring pole, "drilled" a well about 200 feet deep. The well was centered on a spring from which salt water, oil, and gas flowed. A hollowed out Sycamore tree was used as a casing to keep water from flowing into the well. The casing apparently extended about 30 feet below the surface and the well penetrated more than 200 feet. A pump was installed and a blind horse provided the motive power by walking in a circle. The water was fed into a number of wooden troughs and directed to a number of large kettles. Apparently the entire community was involved in this project as everyone seems to have provided their unused kettles and took turns watching the fires at night.

The Thorla-McKee salt-works were in operation for about 20 years and most of the trees in the neighborhood were cut down in the process. Nearby salt-works were opened in the 1860 when salt was again scarce and selling for about $5.00 per barrel.

During the operation of the Olive salt-works, gas and oil periodically were mixed into the salt water. At first the gas was burned and the oil discarded. Several residents apparently tried to use the oil as a lamp fule but its high sulfur content produced black soot and smelled bad. At one point the local boys set fire to the oil floating on top of the water in nearby stream. The resulting blaze was about half a mile long and must have been quite impressive to the residents.

Some of the locals dipped their blankets into the oil and colleted it in bottles. This mixture of oil and water was sold as Senaca Oil, which cured whatever might be wrong with you.

John McKee, son of Robert McKee told a story about a Robert Caldwell who was the kettle watcher one evening. "There was no furnace at the Olive salt-works so the fires under the kettles were kept going all night. Near dawn, Robert realized that he needed to add more water to the kettles. He climber to the top of a platform where the pump handle was located. For a light source he brought along several embers on a bark plate. As he was replenishing the water in kettles, one of the embers dropped about 10 feet and ignited the gas coming from the well. Mr. Caldwell reported that a ball of fire rose upwards while timbers cracked and iron kettles rattled while his hair stood on end. Slowly this ball ascended, being fully as large as a haycock, until it reached the highest branches of a hickory tree, when it exploded, making a noise equal to the loudest thunder. The noise was heard for five miles in every direction. Old Mr. Thorla, who owned most of the salt-well, was sleeping at Colonel Caldwell's, a half a mile distant. He heard the report, hastened to the spot and was most agreeably surprised to find all well. Robert Caldwell was not hurt , but a worse scated man was never seen on Duck Creek."

An Ohio Historical Marked is erected at the site which is located at the junction of Routes 78 and 569, just east of Caldwell. The site has been converted into a picnic area and the original well is visible through a protecting wire screen. The original tree casing seems to have aged quite well.

The Thorla's seem to have been an enterprising lot. I have an article written by Silas (which will eventually be included in this collection) in which he recounts his experiences as a maple sugar maker. He also worked as a photographer. I have heard, but can't confirm, that one of the Thorla's made a crude whisky which was sold in Zanesville as Old Thorla. I will provide a prize to the first person who sends me a picture of one of the bottles!

Within 12 hours of making the above offer the following arrived from Majorie Kinkade.

Now I have to think of a suitable prize!

Silas' father was F.W. Thorla, a farmer and distiller who was born on May 22, 1832. He married Sarah A. Stevens and was the father of Silas, Ellsworth, Florence, Linda, George McAllister and Milo.

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