Crab Orchard Spring Salts, J.B. Wilder & Co, Louisville, Ky.

According to the State of Kentuck’s web site, Kentucky is home to numerous natural mineral springs. One group of mineral springs was located near the town of Crab Orchard, where a popular resort, sometimes referred to as the “Saratoga of the South” (and sometimes “West”) was established in 1827.  The resort operated into the 1930’s and drew people from all over the country.

An 1883 notice that announced the seasonal opening provides a little insight into the scope of the resort and its amenities.

The buildings have been placed in first-class condition and everything possible will be done to promote the comfort and add to the enjoyment of the visitors. The hotel and cottages with all modern improvements, gas, telegraph office, telephone connections, extensive promenades, ample amusements, ball-room, music, billiard-room and bowling alleys, with excellent fishing and hunting convenient.

The waters for medicinal qualities, excellence and variety are the best the world affords – the Epsom, White Sulphur and Chalybeate being the finest and purest in the United States, the sulphur greatly excelling any found in Virginia.

Most of the salts were made from the Chalybeate waters. The first mention I can find for the Crab Orchard Springs Salts is in a series of 1874 advertisements in the (Louisville Ky) Courier-Journal that stated that they were manufactured by the ‘Crab Orchard Springs Salts Manufacturing Company.”

The Crab Orchard Springs Salts Manufacturing Company, having secured the control of all the territory in which the genuine salts are produced, in order to protect the public against the spurious article; are now putting up the salts in one pound and half-pound bottles, with the name of the company thereon in raised letters, and labeled with a miniature map of the State of Kentucky.

A copy of their trademark label/map was included in the advertisement.

The advertisement goes on to provide a description of the salts and their supposedly curative properties.

These salts are obtained from the waters of the mineral wells near Crab Orchard, a small town in Lincoln County, Ky, whence the name is derived. As long ago as 1825, a farmer in that vicinity observed a globular substance remaining after some of the water had been evaporated by the sun. He immediately began to experiment, and by bottling obtained a small quantity of the salts. The analysis of this by a competent physician at once showed that it contained Sulphate of Magnesia and it was at first pronounced epsom salts. Soon, however, it became apparent that it contained other constituents besides the Sulphate of Magnesia. possessing medicinal properties as powerful and more salubrious, and it acquired the appellation “Crab Orchard” as contradistinguished from Epsom Salts.

…The salts are made by boiling the water impregnated with it in large iron kettles; when boiled down to sufficient consistency the contents of the kettles are stirred gently until they granulate. Nine gallons of water yield one pound of salt.

…They are pronounced to have a specific action on the liver, joined with good tonic properties, being the only salts known in the world with these valuable qualities. They are specially recommended for patients suffering from Dyspepsia, Biliousness and Piles, and for persons who indulge in strong alcoholic drinks. The dose is from half an ounce to an ounce, dissolved in water. They act with greater certainty and more advantageously when given in drachm doses, at short intervals, until half an ounce is taken.

The next year, an advertisement/notice dated February 19, 1875  appeared in  at least two issues of the Courier-Journal that stated that the Crab Orchard Springs Manufacturing Company had appointed J.B. Wilder & Co. as the sole and general agent for the sale of all Crab Orchard Springs Salts. The notice was endorsed by H.N. Haldeman, President of the Crab Orchard Springs Manufacturing Company.

According to their advertising, Wilder & Co. was established on October 15, 1838 so by the time they partnered with the Crab Orchard Springs Manufacturing Company they had been in business for almost 40 years.

Wholesale druggists, early advertisements from 1839 listed their first location as simply 4th Street in Louisville. Sometime after 1844 they had moved to MainStreet In Louisville where they remained through 1888. During this time they utilized several Main Street addresses: 181 Main (1866 to 1878), 215 Main(1878 to 1882) and 601 -605 W. Main (1882 to 1887). As far as I can tell, at the time, each of these addresses was located on the block between 5th and 6th Streets.

The business was well known in the south serving as a wholesaler for drugs, medicines and a lot more. This advertisement, printed in the March 14, 1878 edition of the Courier-Journal listed a menu of the various items that they carried.

Newspaper advertisements also named them as agents for a wide variety of patent medicines as well including Sand’s Sarsaparilla, Wistar’s Balsam of Wild Cherry and Dr. Abernathy’s Ambrosial Balsam to name a few.

I assume that the company was started by James B Wilder. Both he and J.B. Wilder, who I assume was most likely his son, were listed in the 1850 census records; James as a merchant and J.B. as a 32 year old druggist.

The elder Wilder passed away sometime around 1860 and by 1866, J.B. Wilder & Co. listed three partners: J.B. Wilder, his son Graham Wilder and Thomas O’Mara. Around 1876 they began listing a fourth partner, T.A.Courtenay. In 1882 O’Mara retired. The youngest Wilder, Graham, died in 1885 and his father, J.B. died three years later in May of 1888. That left Courtenay as the sole surviving partner and according to this September 1, 1888 notice in the Courier Journal, he promptly put the business up for sale.

Apparently he had no takers because by December he was selling everything from show-cases to office furniture to chemical apparatus in lots to suit purchasers. The 1889 Louisville Directory noted that the company was “in liquidation”

It appears that J.B. Wilder’s relationship with the Crab Orchard Springs Manufacturing Company that started in 1875, continued until sometime in late 1882 or early 1883. In August of 1882, H.N. Haldeman, purchased the Crab Orchard Springs property. The sale was reported in the August 11, 1882 edition of the Courier-Journal.

The Crab Orchard Springs property was sold today by a decree of court for $26,000, and the furniture and fixtures for $3,500; total, $29,500. It was purchased by H.N. Haldeman, representing a Louisville syndicate. The property cost nearly $200,000, and, considering its intrinsic value, is regarded as the lowest sale ever made in the United States.

Following the sale, on January 10, 1883 they formed a new corporation called the”Crab Orchard Springs and Salts Company.” H.N. Haldeman was named as a director, along with Bennett H. Young, E.F. Trabue and P.B Muir. According to the incorporation notice printed in several January/February, 1883 editions of the Courier Journal, the new corporation’s business included the manufacturing and vending of the salts.

The business of said corporation shall be the operation of a summer resort and hotels in connection therewith near the town of Crab Orchard , in Lincoln County, Ky., manufacturing and vending salts and other products of mineral medicinal waters, with power in connection therewith to accept leases of the right to take and use such waters and lands necessary for the manufacture of such salts and other products of such waters and to do other acts incident to the purposes aforesaid.

This advertisement in the February 2, 1884 edition of the Courier-Journal exhibited a new crab-apple trademark and made it very clear that “the Crab Orchard Springs and Salt Co.were now the SOLE OWNERS of all genuine Crab Orchard Salts made.”It went on to say that the salts were sold in sealed paper box packages and that “None of their salts can be obtained in bulk or in bottles.”

These developments make it pretty clear that Haldeman and his new corporation were attempting to cut  J.B. Wilder & Co. out of the equation. Nonetheless, it appears that J.B Wilder & Co. continued to represent themselves as the product’s agent. This is supported by this Wilder advertisement for the salts that included the old “Kentucky Map” trademark and the 601 Main Street address. Wilder started using this address sometime in late 1882 so, while not definite, it’s highly possible it was produced after the January 1883 incorporation date of the Crab Orchard Springs and Salt Company. 

An article in the September 13, 1883 edition of the Courier-Journal, reporting on Wilder’s display in the “Great Southern Exposition” being held in Louisville at the time, addressed the issue.

…To the west is an assortment of Crab Orchard Springs Salts in large and small bottles. Over this portion of their display Wilder & Co. have the following sign: “Crab Orchard Sprigs Salts Manufacturing Company, J.B. Wilder & Co., agents.” Now it is not the purpose of the Courier-Journal to distract from any display in the Exhibition. Its aim is not to mislead any visitors, and right here an interesting point comes in. The genuine salts are now manufactured solely by the Crab Orchard Springs and Salts Manufacturing Company. Their goods are put up only in package form and are branded with the “crab-apple” trade mark. Thousands of pounds of these salts are manufactured every year by outside parties, and they contain really none of the active ingredients of the natural and properly manufactured salts. The Crab Orchard Springs and Salts Company have exclusive control of the entire belt of springs in Lincoln County from which the genuine salts are manufactured. J.B. Wilder & Co. are not their agents and their sign tends to lead strangers to a false impression…

To be fair, H. N. Haldeman,  was also president of the Courier-Journal so its highly possible that there was some bias built into the above story.

Whether J.B. Wilder & Company continued to sell these salts up through their liquidation in 1888 is unknown.

The bottle I found is mouth blown and embossed: “Crab Orchard Springs Salts, J.B. Wilder & Co., Louisville Ky., Sole Agents for the Company.” The bottle is 5-1/2 inches tall and 2-1/4 inches in diameter and is probably their half pound size. It’s shape matches the one in the 1880’s advertisement above. The embossing takes up half of the bottle, leaving the other half for their trade-mark label, which is long gone.