Grand Saline Home to Salt Palace Museum
Story by Sarah Naron
Looking at the bustling cities and small towns that cover the East Texas landscape in the present day, it’s hard to imagine that the area was once home to nothing but ocean. However, that is the theory behind the discovery of salt in Grand Saline.
“They think this was all part of a shallow sea at one time, and when it dried up, it left the salt under the ground,” explained Kay Barber, a city employee. “Salt was found on what we call our Salt Prairie in 800 AD by the Caddo Indians. There’s been some sort of salt production here ever since.”
Barber is in charge of operating the Salt Palace, a museum which not only provides visitors with information on the natural commodity, but also on the Morton Salt Company which calls Grand Saline home.
“In 1920, Morton Salt came in and bought all the rights to the salt, and they opened an underground mine in 1931,” Barber said. “They produce about 22 tons of evaporated salt every hour. That’s anything for human consumption, like your table salt, your salt for medicinal purposes – anything that you eat.”
The mine from which the salt is derived has a total depth of approximately four miles, and the mining takes place at roughly 850 feet underground.
“They think there’s enough salt to last another 20,000 years,” Barber said of the Morton Salt Company. “They send salt all over the country and even export some out.”
While no tours of the mine are available to the public, visitors to the museum can watch a video of the activities that take place there.
“They make the packaging, package the salt, and ship it out from the mine site; they do everything out there,” Barber said.
Museum patrons are also provided with their own sample piece of salt.
“The salt is 98.5 percent pure when it comes out of the ground,” Barber said. “So, you can eat it out of the ground, and you do if you eat pretzels with salt on them. Kosher salt and ice cream salt are not evaporated. They are just a grind of what comes out of the ground naturally.”
Visitors may be surprised to learn that aside from adding an extra zest of flavor to a variety of foods, soothing different medical ailments, and aiding in the creation of ice cream, salt can also be used for building purposes. The Salt Palace itself is constructed out of rock salt.
“It’s just big blocks of salt, and they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle,” Barber said. “When they built the museum, they just worked with the salt they had and made it work. There’s a sand and salt mortar that they put in between the salt.”
Although the structure is covered by a metal roof, the rain and East Texas humidity obviously make repair work necessary every few years.
“We are in the process of building a new museum downtown in one of the old buildings that was donated to the city for a salt museum,” Barber said. “We hope that in the next year or so, we’ll have it open.”
For the time being, the salt museum is comfortable in its current home, which also features a large piece of salt situated under a pavilion on the facility’s grounds.
“It’s great for pictures,” Barber said.
In addition to salt, those who visit the museum are also given the opportunity to learn more about two of Grand Saline’s famous past residents.
“Chris Tomlin, a Christian singer-songwriter, is from here; his mom and dad still live here, and they are the sweetest people ever,” Barber said. “We have a little display for him here with a bunch of his gold and platinum albums and Dove Awards and all kinds of stuff from him.”
Homage is also paid to the late Wiley Post, an aviator who was the first pilot to complete a solo flight around the world, as well as a key developer of pressure suits and the discoverer of the jet stream. Post passed away in August 1935 at the age of 37 years old.
The production of salt, Barber said, “is what made the town,” and officials in Grand Saline – the latter part of the name being a fancier term for salt water – work to ensure that all residents and visitors remember that not only by maintaining the salt museum, but organizing an annual pageant to crown a Salt Queen.
“We have six little girls that dress up in the six different dresses that have been on the Morton Salt box,” Barber explained. “The little girl was put on the box in 1914, and she’s had six dresses.”
The Salt Palace is located at 100 W. Garland St. in Grand Saline. Hours of operation are Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information, please call 903-962-5631.
The Morton Salt Company was founded in 1848 as Richmond & Company, Agents for Ondondaga Salt by Alonzo Richmond of Chicago. In 1889, it was acquired by Joy Morton – whose father was a legislator from Nebraska and the mastermind behind making Arbor Day an annual observance – and renamed Joy Morton & Company. Another name change occurred in 1910, when the organization was incorporated and given its present-day moniker.
For more than a century, the dark blue wrapper encasing Morton Salt products has been adorned by the image of a young girl standing in the rain with an umbrella in one hand and an open, flowing container of salt under one arm, alongside the slogan, “When It Rains It Pours.” Her most recent makeover occurred in 2014 in honor of her 100th anniversary as the mascot for the brand. Throughout the years, the Morton Salt Company has received innumerable letters inquiring about the inspiration behind the girl; in truth, there was no real-life model. Despite this, the Morton Salt Umbrella Girl maintains a prominent place in many households across the country and continues to be “brought to life by creative youngsters and adults alike” through events such as costume parties and parades.
For more information on the Morton Salt Company, please visit www.mortonsalt.com