The Oliver Salt Company

Salt of the Hayward Shoreline

The Land

Before the Spanish missionaries and men looking to strike gold during the California Gold Rush, the main inhabitants of what is now known as the East Bay Area were the Ohlones.  These Natives lived on the land and sustained their livelihoods by eating acorns, seeds, berries, small wildlife, and salt.  The Ohlones burned plants from the salt marshes (using the ash as salt), gathered crystalized salt that had formed on rocks, and also used sticks and branches to collect evaporated salt from the shoreline  to trade with the peoples of various other close regions including those of the Napa Valley Area.[1]  This method of gathering and trading salt was much less invasive on the land and sufficed Natives for generations until the salt industry took over the land following the California Gold Rush.

Though the process of producing salt by evaporating ocean water and the whole salt industry of the 19th and 20th Centuries were both marvelous technological feats, the ecology and the natural state of the shoreline suffered due to the overuse of the land and the water of the bay.  The natural ecosystem of the shoreline was greatly damaged because the production of salt over extracted resources.  During this time of over use and over extracting resources the land suffered.  It was recorded that:

Aerial c. 1954 photo of salt ponds & close-by buildingsCourtesy of the Hayward Area Historical Society

Aerial c. 1954 photo of salt
ponds & close-by buildings
Courtesy of the Hayward Area Historical Society

There was, and probably is, a wide strip of land on the eastern side of the bay, in places two, and even three, miles wide [where the production of salt took place].  Without the works of man it would have been under water at high tide, and a mud flat at low tide.  It had, however, been transformed into basins, or fields, several acres in extent, by the erection of mud dikes about two feet high.  Each field, at some point of its perimeter, was adjacent to the canal containing sea water.  At high tide the dike could be opened, thus flooding the field with sea water.  But this was done only once a year, in late winter or early spring.  That field of sea water became the foundation of the next winter’s crop of salt.[2]

For many miles along the bay, the land was being manipulated by man and changed to be better equip for producing the commodity.  The salt industry distorted and tainted the natural state of the land that now makes up Hayward Shoreline.

Since the closure of the Oliver plant of the Township of Mt. Eden, the land has slowly been transformed into a bird sanctuary and reserve for wildlife.  The land was changed so drastically that the “recovery time,” or the time it takes for the land to be restored to its natural state, will take years.

Sign for the San Francisco Bay Trail

Sign for the San Francisco Bay Trail

The discussion of transitioning this land into a wildlife refuge started in late 1995[3] and just three short years later talks of transformation turned into reality when the state funded the effort.[4]  This transformation included about 12 of the approximately 500 miles of the San Francisco Bay Trail that goes through the area to connect with the rest of the Bay as well as the building of the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center funded by the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District.[5]  These steps of connecting the trails and turning the land into a wildlife reserve are small actions to teach people more about the environment and to return the land to its natural state.

Even 35 years after the latest transition of the land from salt ponds to regional parks and bird sanctuaries there is still evidence of the environmental impact.  Though being beaten by the harsh winds and rain coming from the San Francisco Bay there is still reminisce of the Archimedes Screw Pumps.  Over the past 150 years the shorelines of the San Francisco Bay have changed profusely and these changes will continue in the years to come.


[1] “The History of the Hayward Shoreline,” Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center (Pamphlet, “Social Science”): 3.1.

[2] “California: Gold Rush,” Hayward Area Historical Society (Archives Folder, “Oliver Family”): 69.

[3] Dennis J. Oliver, “Salt company land may become wildlife refuge,” The Daily Review, December 20, 1995.

[4] Karen Holzmeister, “Shore has transformed over century,” The Daily Review, July 5, 1995.

[5] San Francisco Bay Trail, “The San Francisco Bay Trail Project,” Last Modified February 2012. <http://www.baytrail.org/&gt; (Accessed May 16, 2012).

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This entry was posted on March 6, 2013 by .