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Omer Adams/Drennon Springs Salt Works

Site ID: 15Hy25

Kentucky Archaeological Survey
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​​​​​​​Archaeologists from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, Division of Environmental Analysis, and Wilbur Smith Associates investigated the remains of the late eighteenth- to early nineteenth-century salt works at Drennon Springs in the 1990s.  They carried out this work prior to construction of a bridge replacement.  

This salt works represents one of the few examples of an important early Kentucky industry investigated by archaeologists. ​During this study, project personnel ​examined 10 furnaces used to boil spring water and extract the salt.

The springs were named after Jacob Drennon, one of several men who surveyed this portion of Henry County in 1773. The archaeological site was named after Omer Adams, who owned it when the work was conducted.

Layers of ash and charcoal from the last furnace firing.


​In 1775, Nicholas Cresswell described Drennon Springs as "...the largest lick I ever saw. I suppose here is 50 acres of land trodden by buffaloes, but there is not a blade of grass upon it... Here is a number of salt and Brackish springs in a small compass, some of them so strong of the brine that the sun forms the salt round the edge of the Springs."  

Salt making at Drennon Springs began in the winter of 1785. ​Producing salt from spring water required long periods of boiling and cooling to remove impurities and promote salt crystallization.  A single large salt work could employ over 100 people to build furnaces, cut timber for fuel, haul kettles, and maintain fires.  Many of the people who often worked these jobs were enslaved by the spring’s owner or were enslaved people rented to the owner from neighboring farms.  

The furnaces documented at the Omar Adams site consisted of trenchs that ranged in length from 13 to 67 feet.  They were lined with stone. Each furnace had a firing chamber with an average width of five feet and a stone-lined chimney on its eastern edge.  The furnace sides were fired red from the heat, and concentrations of ash and charcoal were present along the sides and bottom of many of the furnaces.  The ash and charcoal represented​ a furnace's final use. 

A chimney base associated with the largest furnace documented at the site.

​​On the northern edge of the longest furnace, researchers found a broken kettle incorporated into the wall of its stone lining. A second broken kettle was recovered from the firing chamber of this furnace.   These are the most complete salt making kettles recovered to date from a Kentucky archaeological site.

One of several iron kettles recovered from the site.

What's Cool?

​Salt Manufacturing

​​Central and northern Kentucky have an abundance of natural salt springs.  They were important natural resources for Native Americans and for later Euro-American pioneers. The springs attracted animals, which made them good hunting locales. 

But the salt springs were important in their own right. During the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, salt was difficult to acquire from other sources, so area residents established saltworks to produce their own salt. 

Their health demanded it: the human body cannot live without some salt. It helps transmit nerve impulses, helps contract and relax muscle fibers - including those in the heart and blood vessels - and helps maintain a proper fluid balance. Also, before there was refrigeration, salt ​was essential for preserving food - mainly meats.

An almost compete kettle from the Omer Adams site.

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