Saltville is renowned for its prehistoric animal fossils, found in an enormous salt marsh on the western edge of town. Thomas Jefferson mentioned in his Notes on Virginia (1787) a mastodon tooth sent to him by Arthur Campbell, who established the valley's first saltworks at the site in the 1780s. The operation, later known as the Preston Saltworks, was producing two hundred and fifty thousand bushels of salt a day by 1860. During the Civil War, the saltworks was the Confederacy's chief source of salt and therefore a constant object of Federal raids. In 1864 a raid by Union troops under Major General George Stoneman succeeded in partially destroying the operation. After the war, the saltworks rebounded with the Holston Salt and Plaster Company soon doubling prewar production levels. The Mathieson Alkali Works acquired the salt fields in 1892 and built company housing, most of it along 1st Avenue and Main Street and centered on a large commissary, as well as a post office, hospital, hotel, and schools. Saltville continued to grow throughout the first half of the twentieth century. In 1964 Mathieson merged to become the Olin Corporation, but the plant closed in 1972.
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