The Burning Springs were located on the eastern side of the Kanawha River eight and a half miles above the mouth of Elk River. These springs were discovered in 1773 by Capt. Matthew Arbuckle, the Reverend J. Alderson, and John and Peter Van Bibber. The springs were included in a 1775 survey of 250 acres for Generals George Washington and Andrew Lewis in consideration of military service performed by Washington. Washington in his will states the tract was taken up ‘‘for and on account of a bituminous spring which it contains, of so inflammable a nature as to burn as freely as spirits, and is nearly as difficult to extinguish.’’
Actually there were three such springs, one near the edge of the river and the other two a few hundred feet away. They were not true springs but simply holes in the ground, which filled with rainwater and through which issued a jet of natural gas, giving the water the appearance of boiling. When lighted they burned with a bright flame until extinguished by high wind. During summer they were entirely dry at times.
In 1841, William Tompkins, in drilling a salt well a short distance above the Burning Springs, struck a large flow of gas at nearly 1,000 feet. This gas was subsequently employed in lifting the saltwater to the furnaces, illuminating the works at night, and in boiling the brine. Tompkins was credited with being the first person in America to use natural gas for manufacturing. Other saltmakers soon followed.
Today no trace remains of these springs, and the exact location is unknown. There is another Burning Springs in Wirt County, associated with the early oil industry.
This Article was written by Gerald S. Ratliff
Last Revised on October 22, 2010
Burning Springs. Kanawha Banner, January 21, 1831.
Ruffner, Lewis. American Salt. Kanawha Republican, November 12, 1842.
Cook, Roy Bird. "The Burning Springs Land." Washington's Western Lands. Strasburg, VA: Shenandoah Pub., 1930.