HISTORY OF “Bullitt’s Lick”…(What we are named after)
Bullitt’s Lick is a historic salt lick and it was the first commercial supplier of salt and the first industry inKentucky, employing many residents.
Its high salinity levels in regards to other sources of water made it a popular spot for buffalo and others animals, causing natural roads for humans to use. Squire Boone noted killing a few buffalo by the lick in early 1779. Most such salt deposits in what is nowKentuckywould have only been enough for a few settlers to use, in order to preserve their food. However, Bullitt’s Lick was part of a concentration of salt, ranging fromBardstown Junction,Kentuckyin the south, to across the Salt River to just north of present-dayFairdale,Kentucky, along the eastern side of the “Knobs” of the region.
Captain Thomas Bullitt discovered the salt lick in 1773, while surveying land for Colonel William Christian, who had been granted this land for his actions in the French and Indian War. Christian’s family owned the salt lick and hired others to obtain the salt, and pay the Christians rent in salt for using the land, with Henry Crist being the most prominent of these sharecroppers. Christian would not actually live at the salt lick until 1785, and would die from Indians the next year. His widow soon died, leaving it to his son John Henry Christian, who also died young, giving it to all of his five sisters. During John’s brief ownership, his guardian and uncle Patrick Henry controlled it until John had reached legal age. Due to the sisters’ marriages, control of the salt lick went to Alexander Scott Bullitt and William Pope Jr.
The first actual saltworks on the property were in 1779. Salt was difficult to obtain in the area, as there were few transportation facilities. (Louisville, the first white settlement in the area, had only been established in 1778). Salt was extracted by boiling the water in 25 iron kettles above a 1000-gallon-sized trench of fire. These kettles originally weighed 100 pounds, but the later kettles would weigh up to 200 pounds. There would be three cycles of salt making in a 24-hour period. These furnaces were initially located by the salt lick itself, but once the nearby wood was used, the furnaces were moved to the newer supplies of wood, as that was a cheaper alternative than bringing the wood to the furnaces. Until 1780, it was the only saltworks west ofPennsylvania’sAllegheny Mountains. This in turn made the Wilderness Road the “inland intermodal distribution system” in the territories of theUnited States.
This salt would soon be used not only inKentucky, but the Illinois Territory, Tennessee Territory, and far awayNew Orleansas well. It was taken toNew OrleansandPittsburgh,Pennsylvaniaby way of flatboats. The salt business would last until cheaper supplies of salt were available by steamboat by 1830, putting an end to Bullitt’s Lick salt production.
Joseph Field briefly worked for the salt works at Bullitt’s Lick, and later was a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
One side effect ofBullittCounty’s early salt making was the deforestation of much of its land. This was the motivation for the creation of Bernheim Arboretum andResearchForest.