Something unexpected sprawls underneath the ground in one of America’s most troubled cities. In fact, unbeknownst to many of the people treading the busy streets, a vast 1,500-acre complex lies beneath their feet.
And the story of this bizarre secret began long ago, before even dinosaurs walked the Earth. In fact, it all started as many as 400 million years ago, when this particular area of Michigan – the area where Detroit now stands – was just a huge basin of water.
What’s more, as water flowed into the area and receded, it left behind countless layers of salt. And, over time, these salt beds grew to cover many miles of land.
As the years passed, Native American tribes made their home on the land and learned to harvest the salt by filtering it out of water that came to the surface. In 1895, though, the monetary value of this natural resource became apparent.
Inevitably, then, the Detroit Salt and Manufacturing Company was formed with the aim of creating an official rock salt mine. But in order to access the salt deep underground, the company had to embark on one of the most impressive engineering feats of its time.
Indeed, with the deposits located more than 1,000 feet below the surface, reaching them was a difficult and dangerous task. Construction workers needed to penetrate hundreds of feet of solid stone, for example, as well as contending with toxic hydrogen sulfide gas at every turn.
In fact, during the building of the shaft, six men lost their lives. And, sadly, in the end, the costs of the operation resulted in the company going bankrupt before the work was even completed.
Regardless of this failure, though, a new company was formed – and it set out to succeed where its predecessor had not. Eventually, then, in 1910, the 1,060-foot shaft was finally complete.
But in order to begin work in the mine, all the necessary equipment had to be lowered down the shaft. Even mules were lowered down on ropes, destined to spend the rest of their lives below ground.
In 1912, moreover, the mine changed hands once again. It was now under the control of the Detroit Rock Salt Company, whose miners channeled another 100 feet down to where a secondary salt bed was waiting to be tapped.
By 1914, then, the mine was harvesting more than 8,000 tons of rock salt on a monthly basis. But the company was still not content. Eager to capitalize on its success, in fact, it began work on a second shaft.
That grand project commenced in 1922 and was completed three years later. Now rock salt could be sent to the surface via the efficient new shaft, while the original one was used to transport the miners.
Furthermore, people came from all over the world to work in the Detroit salt mine. Indeed, while some were recruited from other mines in Michigan, many of the original miners were men who had recently immigrated to the United States from as far away as Ireland, Italy, Czechoslovakia, England and Poland.
And as technology progressed, newer and more advanced machinery was lowered into the mine through the second shaft. Typically, it would be sent down piece by piece and then reassembled in a facility within the mine.
And so every day until the early 1980s, miners climbed into the cramped elevator and rode it down into the depths. There they labored hard to harvest rock salt, which was sold for use in the food and leather industries.
Surprisingly, in its heyday during the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s, the mine was often open to the public. In fact, guided tours were actually conducted around the vast complex, and parties of schoolchildren visited to marvel at the grand work of engineering.
It certainly must have been an impressive sight. After all, the mineshaft covers a massive 1,500 acres of land and is almost as deep as the Empire State Building is tall. In fact, to navigate the huge space, workers had to make use of more than 100 miles of roads buried deep underground.
However, by the time 1983 rolled around, salt was no longer a viable investment. Inevitably, then, falling prices put a halt to production, and the mine was forced to close its doors.
Still, this cavernous space underneath Detroit didn’t sit empty and neglected for too long. In 1985, in fact, a company called Crystal Mines Inc. bought the mine, hoping to put its gargantuan size to use as a storage facility.
Then, 12 years later, the mine was given a chance to return to its original purpose. In 1997 it was purchased by the Detroit Salt Company, LLC, although it would be another year until the facility began operations.
So in 1998, some 15 years after the mine had first stopped production, its machinery went into use once more. This time, however, it was used to harvest salt for use in the deicing of roads.
And in 2010 the rejuvenated space saw another boost to its fortunes. The Kissner Group, one of North America’s foremost salt and ice melt manufacturers, bought up the Detroit Salt Company and also acquired the rights to the mine.
Ultimately, then, the two companies joined forces to develop a range of ice-melting products. And as well as standard bagged rock salt, they now produce a range of blended combinations with special additives to reduce impact on the environment.
Today, around 30 regular workers toil in the mines beneath the streets of Detroit. They use oxygen belts, helmets and goggles to ensure their safety in the alien environment of the mines, far beneath the surface of the Earth.
Interestingly, the Detroit Salt Company utilizes the room and pillar method of extracting salt from the Earth. This involves carving out a checkerboard pattern of spaces, leaving the roof of the mine supported by massive pillars.
To do this, a machine is used to cut channels underneath the salt deposits and drill holes into the rock face. And after explosives placed inside the holes are ignited and go off, up to 900 tons of rock salt is then able to be loosened.
After that, the miners use front-end loaders to collect the salt and deposit it into a powerful crusher. The rock salt is crushed and refined before being hoisted to the surface in a shaft capable of lifting 10 tons in mere seconds.
According to its website, meanwhile, the Detroit salt mine is “one of the safest, most modern and efficient mines in the world.” It imports salt to multiple facilities around Canada and the United States – and has garnered multiple five-star reviews on Facebook in the process.
Despite the company’s success, however, there are those who suspect that the mines have a far more sinister purpose at their heart. Indeed, their sheer size and mysterious nature have spawned many legends and rumors throughout the city, including one theory that they hold a facility in which the elite will shelter come the end of the world. Let’s hope, then, that no one finds out the truth firsthand…