CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Before West Virginia was known for its coal production, most knew the state as a source of salt. In the early days of the white man’s arrival in the region, salt became a huge industry here. It sustained and grew much of West Virginia’s Kanawha River Valley.
“The salt industry was huge in the valley,” said Leslie Smithson of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There were multiple companies and at one time West Virginia was the largest salt producer in the nation.”
The industry’s size drew many to the region and helped it to grow. This weekend the heritage will be celebrated with the inaugural BB&T Malden Salt Festival. The three day event will feature a number of activities at the West Virginia Culture Center and on Saturday a day-long celebration in the community of Malden which was home to the John Q. Dickenson Salt Works. The festival will include a parade, several historical designations, a children’s activity area, and concerts late in the day.
The descendants of Dickenson decided to work on creating the festival and Smithson said they were able to convince BB&T Bank to get involved as well.
“BB and T was originally the bank created to fund the salt works,” said Smithson. “There’s that community tie there and they are excited to be involved.”
Another key figure to come out of West Virginia’s salt industry was Booker T. Washington. Before he became the great Civil Rights leader for which he is best known, he worked in West Virginia’s salt fields.
“He came here as a child and worked in the salt fields,” Smithson explained. “Of course he went on to much greater things, but he always held a connection to Malden.”
One of the connections was his lifelong membership in the African Zion Baptist Church in Malden. Part of the celebration will be a Sunday morning worship service at the church in Malden.
The Dickenson family recently decided to tap back into the family’s salt reserves and produce a marketable product in today’s world. You can learn more about their story here.