The Salt Industry

The Laguna Madre on the island's western shore
Shown is the western shore of the island on the Laguna Madre.  In addition to the salt industry in the Laguna, at least one settler is known to have tried to bolster his income by harvesting and selling salt from the Laguna.

NPS photo

From at least the early 1850s to 1874, salt production was a major local industry in the Laguna Madre. The following excerpt from the Corpus Christi Caller (the predecessor to the Caller-Times) from many years ago describes it:

"Salt was procurable in seemingly inexhaustible quantities 60 miles down the bay in the Laguna Madre, a long neck of shallow water which at that time was extremely saline. Evaporation would take place when the action of wind and tide washed the salty water up on the shore, leaving solid sheets of salt. This was cut away like ice, loaded in small boats and brought to the mill where it was ground with power from the windmill to various degrees of fineness. Table salt, salt to preserve cowhides and meat, ice cream salt, and rock salt to feed cattle were turned out at the little mill and bought by the people of the little village of Corpus Christi and neighboring communities which grew up around and gradually acquired names."

The industry reportedly employed about 150 men daily in mining the salt and transporting it to Captain John Anderson's salt mill in downtown Corpus Christi; this was at a time (1850-1875) when the population of Corpus Christi ranged from about 1,000 to maybe a little more than 2,000. The salt was used not only locally, but was exported to as far away as Oklahoma. In fact, the industry probably began before the 1850s. The Handbook of Texas Online notes that the village of Laguna Vista near Port Isabel was "...settled in the early 1800s by Mexican salt traders who transported salt through the region to northern Mexico."

The industry reportedly met its end with the hurricane that struck the island in September, 1874. A newspaper account of the day noted in its description of the damages wrought by the storm that (the material in brackets was inserted during the writing of this article to provide background material):

"...On Padre Island, near the Peaeseal [now known as Pensacal Point on the southern point where Baffin Bay joins the Laguna Madre], a large warehouse belonging to Captain Kenedy was blown down level with the ground, five or six miles below that another warehouse was badly damaged, with considerable loss of salt [this was probably at what was then known as "Murdock’s Landing" , which is now Yarborough Pass]. At Padre Settlement [probably meaning either the settlement on the island’s northern tip or the Curry Settlement on the Laguna shore a few miles south of the current Malaquite Visitor Center] 25,000 bushels of salt on the beach were washed away." The book "Padre Island", written by a group of local authors in 1950, notes that this hurricane apparently broke up the salt deposits and either washed them away or hid them so that they were never found again.

Based on this and other sporadic accounts, the salt was probably often transported up the island or across it to waiting ships. One of the consumers of the salt was the meat-packing plant at Packery Channel, which was one of several packeries in the area.

Why do we no longer see blocks of salt in the Laguna? There are probably several reasons. One author reasoned that the building of the Intracoastal Canal lowered the salinity of the Laguna so that salt can no longer accumulate in the quantities it once did. Perhaps it was simply mined out of existence.

Please help us preserve the island's history. If you find anything of potential archeological value, please report it to the Malaquite Visitor Center or the nearest law enforcement officer. In return the park will give you a certificate to commemorate your contribution.

In addition, remember that taking artifacts from the park not only deprives the public of the historical knowledge they offer, but is also illegal.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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