Arden Salt Works


I continue to work on interpreting the LaRiviere Marsh landscape. Part of the puzzle certainly lies in the history and layout of August Schilling’s Arden Salt Works Plant #1. The more I read, the more interesting this enterprise becomes.

Arden Salt Works

Image of August Schiiling’s Arden Salt Works on the leeward side of the Coyote Hills, which are visible at the edge of the pond (from Leslie Salt archives via MacGregor’s book)

My reference de jour is The Centennial History of Newark by Bruce MacGregor, an entertaining read for those of us with an interest in the South Bay Salt Ponds. Here is an excerpt:

Changes were in the wind, however, by 1901. A salt conglomerate calling itself the Leslie Salt Refining Company had begun operations in San Mateo, and, after reorganiza¬¨tion as the Leslie California Company in 1924, began to systematically acquire an empire in bay side lands suitable for harvesting salt. The Leslie combine’s principle plant was in Redwood City in 1924, but in 1927, it acquired control of the two Plummer operations. Both the active Turk Island works in Alvarado and the Crystal works in Newark, inactive for two years by this time, were bought up. Although the Crystal works. its ancient sheds and windmills looking much as they had in the 1870’s, stood silent and boarded up after the sale, Leslie had a beachhead for its most important San Francisco Bay facility. Development of the site, however, was still ten years away.

Salt production in Newark didn’t really cease after the closing of Crystal. In 1919, August Schilling had started a small salt operation on the tip of Dumbarton Point. With money from the Schilling family’s fortunes in the spice trade behind him, August purchased salt and tidal lands from Dumbarton Point all the way to the Santa Clara County line. He incorporated the project as the Arden Salt Company, and in 1919, harvested and refined his first salt in the tiny works at the tip of Dumbarton. Traces of the plant still remain.

In 1923, the company moved to a site close by the present toll approach to the Dumbarton Highway Bridge, laying out 4.000 acres of new salt pond and constructed famous Plant Number 1, a big barn-shaped refinery on Jarvis Road that survived into the 1960’s to become something of a local landmark.

In 1926. Plant Number 2 was put up, roughly on the site of today’s Leslie plant, and by the late twenties, Arden itself became a combine, buying up small, independent salt companies and expanding its central operations in Newark. Arden acquired, during this period, bay side lands running continuously from Alviso north to the present toll station of the San Mateo Bridge, almost twenty miles of marsh. Schilling’s original investments had made him a powerful, landed man.

Part of the explanation for the sudden rise in Bay Area salt speculation could be traced to the locale. Few other climates in the world afforded recovery of salt by solar evaporating of sea water, and with the sun supplying the energy, it was the cheapest most efficient salt recovery technique of all.

But the salt itself wasn’t the entire motive for the swift rise of tidal land sales and new incorporations. Sea water is rich in other chemicals: bromine, magnesium, chlorine, sodium, and potassium. The need for most of these chemicals had been non-existent before 1900, but during World War I, the bay’s giant salt concentration ponds were providing a source of chemicals useful in the manufacture of explosives. By1925, a small chemical plant was in operation in Newark using bittern, waste water from salt concentration ponds, to manufacture magnesium chloride. They called themselves the California Chemical Company.

And the bay side land itself, the once worthless strip of marsh that was too wet and soft to ever build on, was a speculator’s bargain sale. Its multiple uses were just beginning to be understood and Schilling was one of the first to grasp what was coming.

MacGregot, Bruce, The centennial history of Newark, Newark, California, Newark Days Bi-Centennial Committee, 1976, 148 p.

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