Salt has always been a precious natural resource for people. The Arawaks named the island “Soualugia”, meaning land of Salt. When the Dutch moored on St. Maarten (1624) to repair damage they had sustained during their voyage, they soon “discovered” The Great Salt Pond. This was a major find, because now they had access to a vast supply of valuable goods. The salt was sold to traders in the Caribbean and “New England” in the USA. St. Maarten had become very important to them. The salt was stored at three locations in Philipsburg without protection from the elements. If, for a prolonged period of time there was no rain, the salt yields were very substantial. The salt industry was a very hard life for all those involved in it. During harvest season (6 – 7 months of the year) at least 500 people, including children and senior citizens, slaves and free citizens from the Dutch and the French side of the island, would work in different groups with each person having a special task to fulfill. The Dutch side stopped production of salt in 1949, to be followed by the French side in 1967. After which the salt industry came to an end on the island.
Processing of salt
The sun causes the evaporation of water from the sea water, which leaves a crust of salt crystals. These can be removed by shoveling and scraping.
Another method was by putting stakes in the salt ponds and removing the formed salt cakes around the stakes by hand (reaping). The technique used at the Salt factory located at Foga, consisted of heating salt water to high temperatures until the water evaporated and salt crystals were formed. The Salt factory, built in 1862 by Slotemaker and Ademante, did not produce as expected and was abandoned.
Ruins of the factory can still be seen at the Salt pond opposite Philipsburg.