100 years of salt mining

Sunday, September 27, 1987

The Morton plant in South Hutchinson was first built in 1899 as an operation of the Hutchinson-Kansas Salt Co. None of the original wooden building remains.

In 1906, Morton began construction on a new, larger plant, but the structure was destroyed by fire before it was finished. Work began again - this time, the boiler room and salt warehouse were made fireproof. When complete, the Morton plant was a showpiece, the largest salt-producing operation in the West (back then, Kansas was considered West). Today, despite subsequent additions, it is mid-sized by Morton standards.

A brine evaporating plant on the site of today's Cargill operation at Cleveland and Campbell was built by E.E. Barton in 1892 with a capacity of 300 barrels a day.

It, too, burned in 1903; it was replaced with a larger plant. Vacuum evaporators were installed in 1913, shortly after C.C. Humphreys had taken over the plant from the Barton family.

Subsequent owners have continued to expand the operation, most recently Cargill after its purchase of Barton Salt Co. in the 1970s.

Although Emerson Carey joined the ranks of Hutchinson's "salt jacks" in 1901, it wasn't until 1923 that he sank the first - and only - coal-mine-style salt mine in Reno County on a site east of town.

The enormous Carey Salt shed that stands near the entrance to the mine is open inside, and easily stores a 60-foot pile of crushed rock salt. Brine wells are kept well away from the mine area to protect miners.