Saltville’s rich history is based on its natural and cultural resources. Millions of years ago, Saltville was a shallow inland salt-water sea. Massive quantities of salt settled to the bottom of the sea. As time passed, geological changes occurred resulting in continents separating, mountain ranges rising up, and other changing surface features. The salt that was deposited in the Saltville Valley formed veins of salt that run through the rock and form large salt caverns. Salt is the key natural resource that has shaped Saltville’s history.During the last Ice Age, 10-20 thousand years ago, the salt deposits in the Saltville Valley attracted animals such as Mastadons and Wooly Mammoths. Salt is a key element of animals’ and humans’ diets and the lake environment in Saltville was an ideal habitat for a wide range of mammals. Archeologists have found the remains of ice age animals and plants in the Saltville Valley – where the Saltville lake had been located.
Over time, well-established trails were created by the large number of animals that migrated in and out of the Saltville Valley. The trails offered easy corridors for humans to travel as they tracked herds of animals and looked for food. There is evidence of human occupation in the Saltville Valley from over 14,000 years ago. Clovis, from 10,000 years ago, has historically been the excepted date for earliest human arrival to North America. Research has shown that Saltville was home to “Clovis,” but was also home to Clovis’ ancestors. Points and arrowheads from these periods have been found in the Saltville area. There is also evidence that a large settlement, or village, existed in the Saltville valley during the Woodland Period, sometime between 1,500 BC and 1,500 AD.
Until recently, historical records showed that the 1st Europeans arrived in the Saltville area in the 1750’s. However, historian Dr. Glanville recently uncovered evidence of European presence in Saltville in 1567 – when the Spanish Conquistadors traveled to Saltville to trade with the native Americans that called Saltville home.
The course of geographic change takes time - the development of salt deposits, the rise of mountain ranges, or the changing a course of a river. Cultural evolution occurs more rapidly. The combination of geographic change and cultural evolution has determined Saltville’s history, and to a large extent American history.
Over the last two and a half centuries, Saltville has played the following role in American history.
• 1748 Walker Expedition
• 1778 Madam Russell, Patrick Henry’s sister and mother of “Methodism”
• 1798 William King “commercialization of salt”
• 1800-1850 Early salt manufacturing with the Preston family
• 1856 Railroad arrival in Saltville
• 1864 Two Civil War Battles fought in Saltville
• 1894 Mathieson Alkali Works, a British company, begins establishing chemical factories in Saltville utilizing the salt reserves – beginning the modern chemical industry in the US
• 1898-1920 “Boom” town growth for Saltville (houses, churches, bars, golf course, etc)
• 1917 Carnegie Institute
• 1918 World War I, troops stationed in Saltville (Government section)
• 1924 Christmas Eve Muck Dam Disaster
• 1932 Largest Dry Ice Plant in the world at Saltville
• 1949 University of Tennessee begins activities in Saltville
• 1952 2nd largest Chlorine Plant in the world at Saltville
• 1966-1967 Smithsonian Institute & Virginia Polytechnic Institute
• 1969 Saltville Hydrazine helps put man on the moon
• 1972 Olin Matheison announces plant closure (loss of over 1000 jobs) due to new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regulations
• 1970 early Panorama Years (introduction of Tourism possibilities for Saltville’s future)
• 1970’s EPA classifies two formers Olin sites as Super Fund Clean up sites to eventually restore environmental quality
• 1997 Museum of the Middle Appalachians Founded in Saltville – starting Saltville’s celebration of its rich history