March 23, 1803: Pioneer Joseph Ruffner Dies in Charleston

Joseph Ruffner

Pioneer Joseph Ruffner died in Charleston on March 23, 1803. Nine years earlier, the Shenandoah Valley native had purchased some 500 acres in Kanawha County from John Dickinson, including lands rich in salt deposits.

By the close of the 18th century, Ruffner had acquired much of present Charleston and had settled on what’s now the town’s East End.

After Ruffner’s death, his sons David and Joseph took possession of his salt property, which would become the most valuable land in the Kanawha Valley. The two brothers devised methods and tools for drilling the first salt well into the Kanawha bedrock.

They jump-started an industry that would produce more than three million bushels of salt annually and make the Kanawha Valley the salt capital of the nation. David was also the first to use coal to manufacture salt and laid out the present town of Malden.

Daniel Ruffner, another of Joseph’s sons, built the Holly Grove mansion. The house hosted such notable visitors as Henry Clay, Sam Houston, Andrew Jackson, and John J. Audubon. Holly Grove—the oldest house in Charleston—is part of the state capitol complex today.