HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
This page was last revised on July 14, 2012.
An operation producing salt for the Confederacy during the Civil War existed near what is now Port Richey. The salt works was owned by Rev. Capt. Leroy G. Lesley, David Hope, and a man named Ryals.
Frances Clark Mallett recalls that David, Henry, and William Hope were each given land grants of 160 acres at Chocochattee. “After establishing their homesteads, they started building cattle herds. There were no fences to keep in the cattle, so the cattle were branded and roamed free. The cattle wandered down to a salt spring near the coast where they could get to the salt licks on the edge of the spring. After several attempts to round up their cattle to take them back to their homesteads the Hope brothers gave up and established a camp near the springs. Soon they realized the high salt content of the spring water, so they began boiling down the water to make salt.”
An advertisement which appeared in the Cotton States newspaper of Gainesville on March 19, 1864, reads:
An advertisement which appeared in the Cotton States newspaper of Gainesville on April 16, 1864, reads:
This area later became known as Hopeville and Port Richey. An 1859 map shows a settlement named Pittitochoscolee at this location.
In the 1880s, plans were being made to develop Salt Springs. The planners mapped out a town to be called Tremont, but the project fell through.
In 1927 a newspaper article reported that Salt Springs “is part of the property of the Maner Company, who began dredging for an extensive Venetian development about two years ago and while little has been accomplished their plans have not been abandoned. Salt Springs is well known to many who have traveled over sand trails before our good roads were built, to camp and fish, and was a favorite place for an oyster bake.”
The land surrounding the salt springs was acquired by the State of Florida and Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park was dedicated on March 16, 2001. The web site of the state park is here. A 2008 St. Petersburg Times article is here.
A historical marker was scheduled to be dedicated in 2008.
Salt Was Florida’s Big Contribution to Confederate Cause in Civil WarBy WILFRED T. NEILL
This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on Aug. 7, 1977.
The production of salt was one of Florida's major contributions to the Confederate cause during the Civil War. I've mentioned this subject in a previous article, but now I'd like to take it up in a bit more detail.
Florida was in an awkward position at the outbreak of the Civil War. In those days, just as at present, many residents had recently come down from the North. Their basic loyalty was still to the Union. There were also quite a few settlers of British, Spanish, Cuban, Greek or Minorcan descent; they just wanted to stay out of the war and keep on with their work.
Furthermore, some important Floridians—Thomas Brown, Columbus Drew, George T. Ward, even former territorial governor Richard Keith Call—were Union sympathizers.
Of course, a majority of Florida pioneers would be loyal to the South. But their numbers re not great, for the state was very thinly populated at that time.
As an example, there were only two to six inhabitants per square mile in an area extending from Tampa Bay northeastward about to present-day Land O’ Lakes, Zephyrhills and Plant City. Most of Pasco County, along with Pinellas, Hernando and Citrus counties, had fewer than two inhabitants per square mile. The area of thickest population extended from St. Marks and Tallahassee northward to the Georgia boarder, and even there the settlers numbered no more than 45 per square mile.
Florida seceded from the Union on Jan. 11, 1861. It remained an “independent nation” until Jan. 28, when it joined the Confederacy. At that time it was already obvious that the state's greatest contribution to the war effort would be supplies rather than manpower. Florida would support the South by producing cotton, tobacco, turpentine, beef, pork, tallow, hides, cane sugar and syrup, corn, dried fish. And salt—especially salt.
Salt was needed not only for ordinary table use, but also (and more importantly) to cure the beef and pork that would be fed to southern troops. For during those days, in the absence of refrigeration, food somehow had to be preserved for days or even weeks. Salt curing was the most effective way to do this. Salt was so important that the men who made it were exempted from military service.
Accordingly, all along the gulf coast from Tampa Bay to the Choctawhatchee, Floridians began to build saltwork. Because the salt was extracted from seawater, the works had to be set up at the seashore. And these works were usually located near a river mouth because the salt would be transported by blockade-running ships.
Soon there were saltworks near the Wacasassa, Crystal River, the Homosassa, the Chassahowitzka; also near Tampa and at the tip of the Pinellas peninsula.
One of the most interesting works was built at Salt Springs, just northwest of Port Richey in Pasco County. There, at each high tide, large saltwater springs gushed from the ground. And this location was important, for coastal saltworks often were bombarded by Union sailors and marines, who would go ashore, burn the storehouses and shanties, break up the equipment and capture or kill the livestock.
But Salt Springs, being well inland, could not be seen from Union boats patrolling offshore. And so 200 men lived and worked there, extracting salt from the sea-water that welled up to the surface. (This was 22 years before Aaron McLaughlin Richey arrived to found Port Richey near the mouth of the Cotee River.)
At a saltworks, the men boiled sea water in large kettles and sheet-iron boilers or else merely allowed the water to evaporate in the hot sun. Sometimes the men would erect small windmills, to pump the water through hollow logs into the iron boilers or the wooden evaporating vats.
A hard rain could ruin a day's work by diluting the water or dissolving the salt in the vats. Consequently, rolling roof-like structures were built and were hastily pulled into place when storm clouds threatened.
A large works might turn out 1,500 bushels of salt a day. For this the Confederate government paid $12.50 a bushel. But first, of course, the salt-makers had to get their product to some major southern port. And this was not easy.
And so it was that the saltmakers did their share—indeed, more than their share—toward supporting the southern cause.