By Brad Dison
Following the Civil War, the U.S. Government lifted the blockade of the south. With salt readily available to purchase at stores throughout the south, the demand for salt production at Raborn’s Salt Works declined. Large scale salt production eventually ceased.
By October 1870, Sampson Raborn, Maria Theresa, their two children, and some of Sampson’s stepchildren had moved to Lamar County, Texas. In November of the following year, Sampson Raborn died and was buried in Texas. After his death, Sampson’s wife and children returned to Friendship. Maria Theresa died in 1897.
Five years later, in 1902, Geologist A.C. Veatch returned to Raborn’s Salt Works to make a report for the Geological Survey of Louisiana. The geologist included in his report two photographs which showed some of the kettles at Raborn’s Salt Works. Absent from the geologist’s report are any details or photos of the stack, which must mean the stack had not been built when Veatch visited Raborn’s Salt Works.
In March of 1935, J. Fair Hardin and Jack G. Beaird published an article in the Shreveport Journal which described their visit to several salt mines in north Louisiana including King’s Salt Works in Castor, Carey Salt Co. in Winnfield, and Raborn’s Salt Works near Friendship. They described that at Raborn’s “some of the furnaces and kettles that furnished salt for the Confederacy may still be seen near a concrete stack of a short-lived salt factory of a later era.”
Because the geologist’s 1902 detailed report failed to mention the stack and the first known mention of the stack was published by Hardin and Beaird in 1935, the stack must have been built sometime between 1902 and 1935. Rather than being a part of “a short-lived salt factory,” as Hardin and Beaird concluded, the stack was most likely used as a kiln in the production of lime.
In 1928, the Southern Advance Bag & Paper company began its operations in Hodge. In its first year of operation, the company produced about “five million paper sacks per day, turned out 90 tons of kraft paper, employed 300 girls and 280 men, and had an annual payroll of approximately $500,000, and represented an investment of over $3,000,000 in plant and equipment.” The large-scale operation needed lime for bleaching pulp in the paper creation process. Operators at the paper mill learned about the limestone reserves at Raborn’s Salt Works and began a mining operation there.
Paper mill workers mined limestone from the lime pit and crushed it into smaller pieces. They loaded the raw limestone into the top of the kiln. By the force of gravity, the limestone moved downward through three thermally zoned sections known as the preheating, calcining, and cooling zones. The process heated the limestone from ambient temperature to about 1650°F, which is the point where the carbon dioxide was driven off and left calcium oxide, also known as quicklime. The finished quicklime was removed from the bottom hole in the stack and loaded onto train cars. They transported the finished product from Raborn’s to the paper mill in Hodge via a purpose-built short-line railroad, a spur of the North Louisiana and Gulf railroad. The length of time the paper mill produced quicklime at Raborn’s has not been determined. According to topographical maps of the region, the paper mill removed the railroad tracks leading to Raborn’s sometime between 1947 and 1957.
After the paper mill abandoned the lime pit, it eventually filled with water. It became a favored swimming hole due to its clear water. Some people claimed that it was called the “Blue Hole,” similar to the one near Kepler Lake in Castor, due to the deep blue color of the water. It was so deep that some people referred to it as being bottomless. Rumors persist that a swimmer drowned in the lime pit sometime after the paper mill abandoned it. According to the stories, his body was never found, just the clothing he removed before going swimming. Another rumor was that the swimmer did not drown but ran off to join the Army. I could find no documents to support the rumors of the drowning. Whether or not it was due to a drowning, workers used heavy machinery to fill in the lime pit with backfill. On the day Weyerhaeuser’s Seth Carpenter, Eddie Holmes, and I visited the site of the lime pit, the water averaged from between 2 and 3 inches deep, and decades-old pull tab beer cans, dry-rotted tires, and other trash littered the area.
In the winter of 1937-38, about ten years after the paper mill began mining limestone at Raborn’s, workers began pumping salt brine from Raborn’s Salt Works into tanker trucks and transported it to a chlorine plant in Hodge. The chlorine plant reported that “this saturated brine contains about two and one-half pounds of salt per gallon.” Each tanker truck delivered about 1,400 gallons of brine per trip, which is the equivalent of 3,500 pounds of dry salt. At the plant, workers sent an electric current through the dry, unprocessed salt which separated out the chlorine and sodium. The unprocessed salt was comprised of several different minerals. Workers in the plant used the chlorine in a process to bleach pulp. In another process, plant workers used the sodium in a recipe to form caustic soda, which was used to help cook the pulp. The length of time the chlorine plant removed salt brine from Raborn’s has not been determined.
Once again, the area of Raborn’s Salt Works went quiet… but not for long. The mystery of the stack may have been solved, but Raborn’s Salt Works became embroiled in a bitter dispute which included a federal agency, two Louisiana governors and two Presidents of the United States.
The investigation continues next week in Raborn’s Salt Works: Part 4, A Cover-Up Bigger Than Watergate.
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1. Ancestry.com, 1870 United States Federal Census for Sampson Raborn, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7163/images/4267885_00773?pId=10919783.
2. Find A Grave. “Maria T. Raborn” Accessed April 14, 2022. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/124201950/james-warren-strother.
3. The Shreveport Journal, March 9, 1935, p.12.
4. The Monroe News-Star, November 5, 1928, p.85.
5. National Lime Association, Accessed May 18, 2022, https://www.lime.org/lime-basics/uses-of-lime/other-uses-of-lime/pulp-and-paper/#:~:text=Lime%20is%20used%20in%20the,pulp%20and%20paper%20mill%20wastes.
6. The Shreveport Journal, January 6, 1938, p.11.
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