In the touristy little town of Seaside, Oregon, are replicas of the structures (known as “cairns”) where Lewis and Clark’s men boiled sea water to evaporate the water and gather salt to season their food and preserve their meat. These cairns were ovens built of rock and shaped like an upside down “u”. Wood was piled beneath the rocks and a fire built and kept constantly going. Between December of 1805 and February of 1806, three men worked with five brass kettles boiling 24 hours a day, going through over 1400 gallons of seawater to make enough salt for the expedition to use on their return home. They were able to make three quarts to one gallon each day and ended up with over 20 gallons of salt.
A Clatsop Indian woman named Jennie Michele, was the one who showed the Oregon Historical Society where the salt works had been located. They built a fence around the area for protection and in 1910 the owner of the property, Charles M. Cartwright, deeded the site to the historical society. In 1955, the replica salt cairns were built by the Lions Club using sketches from the Lewis and Clark’s journals. In 1978 the site became part of the Fort Clatsop National Memorial.
To commemorate the historical importance of the Salt Works, every year during the third weekend in August, re-enactors from the Seaside Museum and Historical Society, provide an opportunity for families to head to the beach and learn about the process of making salt. Kids can bring trinkets to “trade” with the “explorers.” It is also the perfect chance for kids to ask questions about life in the early 1800’s and imagine what it would have been like to live back then. It’s a great experience because they won’t find the actors breaking role, so they won’t talk about iPhones and video games. They can learn the history in a hands-on way, helping to tend fires and boil the seawater to make salt. Once again, any time kids can touch history, they will remember it.
Getting there: Take Hwy. 101 to the town of Seaside. Turn west on Avenue G. Follow the signs to South Beach Drive and Lewis and Clark Way.