Second only to the fish themselves, salt was the most important natural product in any 18th- and 19th-century fishing community, because it was — in the age before electricity — the only way of preserving fish to bring them home from long voyages and then to send them to near and distant markets. The Revolutionary War cut off the Cape’s supply of imported salt, but in the latter 1770s, Capt. John Sears of East Dennis developed a successful method of extracting salt by evaporating sea water. The process, as it was finally perfected, required considerable real estate. Brine pumped from the sea was run down a stepped series of vats over the course of four to six weeks, becoming more and more refined until what remained was crystallized salt. The salt works shown in this 1858 map were established before the current streets were mapped. But the works occupied an area stretching roughly from the present-day 21 Center Street through the Far Land parcel at 150 Bradford Street, a length of about 280 feet. Provincetown’s thriving salt industry collapsed after the discovery in the late 1870s of vast subterranean salt mines in western New York — the remnants of a prehistoric sea. Mining wasn’t easy, but it was easier, faster, more efficient and cheaper than evaporation.
¶ Last updated on 20 March 2018. ¶ Image from Map of the Counties of Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket, Massachusetts: Based Upon the Trigonometrical Survey of the State (1858), by Henry Francis Walling, courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library, Call No. G3763.B3 1858 .W3.