Salt Wells (Petersens) We Visited: 3/27/03
39 22' 31"N, 118 34' 55"W - LAHONTAN MTS quad

Directions: Highway 50E from Fallon 15 miles

From Fallon: 15 miles

What Was

A stage stop and- about 1.3 miles SE- the Borax Works. In the 1870's borax was mined and processed in the area a mile or so SE of Salt Wells. There are three sites, spaced roughly 1 mile apart.

Paher mentions Salt Wells only in passing, that it was a stage stop on the Fallon-Fairview run back in 1906.

However, they got a bit excited about the discoveries back in the day.

SALT WELLS ON THE DESERT. —About 80 miles from Carson City, in an easterly direction, a group ot salt wells were discovered, says the Territorial Enterprise, by parties exploring that region, a few month ago. So rich are the watersin saline properties, that immense deposits of salt have been formed about the springs of such purity as to be already fit for table use, and in quantities sufficient to supply the wants of almost any number of people. These wells are owned by Capts. Mead and Dickson, and Judge Byran, who, now that the Indian troubles have been quelled, intend to commence the work of preparing this salt, and supplying it for the use of the inhabitants of Washoe.
-1860 August 21, Marysville Daily Appeal

By the 1870's they were hauling it out of there as fast as they could.

Salt Wells, New, April 17th.
The Nevada Borax.
Among the very many and varied sources of wealth that have sprung up of late years in this State, borax is destined to hold a prominent place. Twelve months ago travelers passing along the highroad from Wadsworth to Belmont crossed a low lying flat at Salt Wells, covered with a thick white crust that made the eyes ache to look at it, and hastened on their journey, glad to leave such a wo-begone, sterile stretch of country behind them. Teamsters cursed it for its treachery—even the cattle were glad to scamper away because of its salt, brackish water— leaving it in its desolate loneliness to the occupancy of the coyotes and one solitary old man, who kept Salt Wells station. But what a surprising change has come in a short time. That white crust was found to be borate of soda, and it being proved to contain enough of borax to warrant works being erected for its manufacture, every available inch of land was rapidly taken up, and works suitable were ordered, and as fast as received were put in position and the manufacture of Nevada borax commenced in earnest. Last year there were two companies at work, and this Spring a third company has put up extensive works on this flat, intending to manufacture a first-class article, which shall compete successfully with that made in Europe and imported to this country. Between seventy and eighty tons of borax was manufactored here last year, which found ready sales at $400 and $450 per ton. It is impossible to compute with any certainty the amount of borax that will be taken out this year, as the various companies have largely increased the working capacity of their mills, and the season promises to be much better adapted for the successful working of the crude material than that of last season, as it is much dryer, and appears to be of a richer quality than heretofore. One peculiarity of this kind of material is its great reproductive power; where it was taken up last year already quite a thick crust has again formed, and it is thought that so long as the world stands borax will be manufactured at Salt Wells. The great borax fields in Esmeralda county are reported to be much richer then those of Churchill, but owing to their great distance, inland, from any shipping point, their value is greatly reduced, though against the great difficulties of the position, a few indomitable spirits have thrown their energy and capital—have erected works there, and are determined to fight it out. Large quantities of the crude material are being sent to San Francisco, where it is manufactured into refined borax. The raw material found in Esmeralda county is mainly borate of lime, and is found underneath the surface, while the borate of soda forms on the surface of the soil. Borate of lime is found, too, at Hot Springs, about two miles cast of Wadsworth. A German company has recently bougat out the original owners, but according to the State Mineralogist's report, the quantity of material found there is but limited. Borax is found in several other places within the limits of the State, but in no very large quantities. Indeed, the principal place of attaction, and the point on which the commercial eyes are fixed, is at Salt Wells, Churchill county. There from early morning till late at night the smoke rolls upward from the tall chimneys, the shrill steam whistle awakes the echoes of the surrounding hills, telling far and wide of the advent of civilization in the wilderness. in place of the howling of the coyote and the cawing of the crow are heard the songs and shouts of the joyous workers, and "all goes merry as a marriage' bell." When it is taken into consideration that the gentlemen who have opened up this species of industry in our midst were altogether ignorant of the business, and that there was not a solitary person around to give them any information of the particulars of the mode of working, but out of their own brains, and of their own innate strength of will, after many mistakes and failures, they have worked the problem to a satisfactory solution, it will be clearly seen that great credit is due them for their perseverence and steady resolve to know no obstacle that could daunt them; and they deserve, as they will doubtless get, a full and ample reward for their labors. Borax.
- 1873 April 24 Sacramento Daily Union

Post Office: none
Newspaper: None

What is

If you've come expecting to find spectacular ruins you're going to be disappointed. There probably wan't much here to begin with. The landscape is bleak, flat, and in the summer I imagine it's quite dreadfully warm. The soil- if you want to call it that- off the road is soft and crunchy, and there are remnants of borax mining activity all around- bits and pieces of corroded metal, glass, and wood. Directly behind the present facility there is a large dump area, which we did not take the time to explore.

This, I believe, is the remains of the ramp for unloading the borax from the wagons for procesing.
The Big Top Restaurant at Salt Wells in 1963, back when you could tell your wife you stopped there for some refreshment without getting beat senseless with a rolling pin. This image is Mary Walker Foster and I admit borrowing it from MICHON MACKEDON'S Project Shoal: Anatomy of a Nuclear Event
The remains of the pan used to heat the borax solution.
Return to Previous Document | HOME