Through my Lithia Springs research I've often seen the reference to salt and Lithia Springs. It makes sense since the original name for the area was Salt Springs, right? But most salt references discuss Indians, curative waters, and animals coming to the rocks around the springs to take advantage of the salt that would form on the rocks. However, my latest research indicates it wasn't just animals utilizing the salt at the springs, and early on it wasn't the water that was desired but the salt that remained after boiling the water.
An 1882 reference in the "Atlanta Constitution" discussed the springs which were owned for decades by John Bowden stating, "On this place you will find the salt springs. You can take the water and boil it down to salt. The mine has never been worked to any extent. Denmead and Johnstone leased it and worked it a short time during the war, but were driven off by the enemy before they had worked it to any extent."
I've searched for years for more of the Denmead and Johnstone story, and finally, it fell in my lap with one major correction. While Denmead is Edward Denmead, Johnstone is not Johnstone at all. His actual name is Robert A. Johnson. Denmead was very well known in Marietta history having arrived there in 1838 from Baltimore. He was important in business and politics serving as mayor of Marietta for several terms. Johnson is a little more elusive, but I'm working on his background as well, too.
In 1862, the partners Denmead and Johnson formed a business called Cobb County Mining Company and obtained an unlimited lease on the springs from John Bowden, however, they weren't the first to mine for salt on the property.
I have seen reports refer to a man named Sims who was mining salt at the springs between 1822 and 1832 alongside Native Americans at the rate of one or two bushels a day using common dinner pots for boiling the brine. Apparently, there were many older residents in the area in the early 1860s who told of Sims, but his complete name is lost to history.
These older residents related how on the southwest side of the property, Sims and the Indians excavated in the solid rock a cistern three feet deep, ten feet wide, and ten to fifteen feet long. At some point there was a quarrel, and the salt mining came to an end. The cistern was filled with poles and stones.
In 1862, the almost forgotten source of salt came to mind when the state of Georgia was desperately looking for new sources. Salt was vital for preserving food in an era with no refrigeration. The Union blockade had made rationing necessary, but by mid-1862 there was little to ration, and the population was concerned.
Various newspapers mentioned the abandoned salt mine stating the springs were found in a clump of woods issuing at two points 120 yards apart. The west spring occurred in a slight depression in the rocky area and the water oozed up at many points over an eighth of an acre. This was inferred from the fact that many cattle visited the place daily and drank from the little pools and puddles in the marsh formed by the mud that had been washed in and had filled up the hollows in the rock.
It wasn't long before Denmead and Johnson's new venture was announced with great excitement. Mining operations would resume after a thirty to forty year break.
By early December, 1862 it was reported the partners had sunk a shaft through the solid rock thirty feet deep and from which about 12,000 gallons of salt water was obtained daily. Once boiled the water was yielding about 30 bushels of salt, the quality of which was described as equal to any mined in Virginia.
Denmead and Johnson hoped for a much larger operation since there were five other places on the property where saline water rose to the surface. In the thirty foot shaft already being worked it was said the salinity of the water grew stronger with every foot they dug down. Denmead and Johnson were hopeful the state of Georgia would assist with erecting the necessary engine power and help place hands to work -- mainly slave labor -- in order to meet the state's demand for salt.
Sources indicate mining operations ceased when the Union soldiers made their way south and reached Salt Springs in 1864. The venture never resumed, and the springs remained quiet until a few men from Atlanta "discovered" the water, and the area morphed into a resort town.
Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can find her new book "Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County" online at Amazon, print and Kindle versions. Locally, her books can be found at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art, The Farmer's Table and Lithia Springs Pharmacy.