An early overview:
Rhodes marsh has been a source of salt for quite a long time. In the early 1860's Comstock mills cut the price of San Francisco salt in half by using camels to transport salt from here. Soon closer sources were discovered, but by 1869 Rhodes was supplying the mills of Columbus and Belmont. About 1874, they started producing borax as well. Pure salt occurs in the central part of the playa, surrounded by a zone containing borax, ulexite, sodium sulphate, and sodium carbonate.
-Preliminary Report on the Building Stones of Nevada, Reid, 1904
This whole camel business got to be such a problem that Virginia City enacted an ordinance to prohibit camels within the city limits during certain hours so the horses wouldn't freak out. Salt was handy for preserving things in the days before refrigeration, and it was also used in early ore refining processes, so it was pretty important.
The Virginia salt marsh, of a couple of thousand acres, is only a few miles from Volcano district, and is sufficient to supply the whole Pacific coast. This salt is the best for dairy or meat preserving purposes yet found in the State, and in vats of the company engaged in manufacturing or securing it there are at present at least 10,000 tons of the best quality.
-Gold Hill Daily News, December 14, 1870
Rhodes became a station on the narrow gauge Carson & Colorado Railroad in 1881.
See an awesome map of this route courtesy of DAVE'S RIO GRANDE NARROW GAUGE SITE.
The following are the stopping places and distances along the line of the C. & C. R. R., between Hawthorne and Candelaria: The first is Stanfield, 10 miles from Hawthorne and 110 miles from Mound House; Kinkead, 113 miles; Luning, 125 miles; New Boston, 131 miles; Soda Springs, 147 miles; Rhodes' Marsh, 142 miles; Belleville, 150 miles; Junction, 154, and Candelaria, 159 miles. At Luning the stage connects tri-weekly with Grantsville, Belmonth, and Tybo, and from Soda Springs the stage connects with Gold Mountain and Candelaria.
-Weekly Independent, December 18, 1881
Salt was still important
THE SALT OF THE EARTH
If Nobody Else had Salt Nevada Would Be RIch
Fifteen miles north of Columbus lies a salt bed of immense resources. It was taken up in 1861, and known at the Virginia Salt Co's works. It is now called Rhodes' Salt Marsh. It is about a mile square. Pits are sunk 40 to 50 feet in diameter and 4 feet deep. THe brine rises up in them and the salt precipitates. It is in a desolate land. The valley and hills show no sign of life. No vegetation covers the black, basaltic hills.
-Reno Evening Gazette, January 31, 1882
Looks like we're also going to get into the borax business. Wikipedia tells us that "Borax, also known as sodium borate decahydrate, is a mineral and a sodium salt of boric acid. Its physical description is a 'white, odorless, crystalline solid'. Borax commonly refers to the decahydrate form, i.e., sodium tetraborate decahydrate. Borax is a component of many detergents, cosmetics, and enamel glazes."
Business along the line of the C. & C. is said to be good, although Hawthorne is very dull. The Nevada Salt and Borax Company have erected a large building on their salt marsh and are putting in machinery to refine salt and borax. A side track a mile in length has been built to the salt beds.
-Weekly Nevada State Journal, June 3, 1882
We're glad to have a professional taking charge here!
The GAZETTE learns that A. F. Keeler, who for several years has been the freight agent of the V. & T. at Gold Hill, left Carson today to take charge of the C. & C. railroad station at Rhodes Marsh, as well as the books of the borax works there.
-Reno Evening Gazette, August 10, 1883
George Coffin returned this morning to Rhodes Marsh, Esmeralda county, where he has charge of a C. & C. telegraph office.
-Reno Evening Gazette, July 10, 1886
Hmmm. Well that didn't last long.
The telegraph station at Rhodes Marsh in Esmeralda county, having been discontinued, George Coffin is temporarily idle, and is spending his vacation at home.
-Reno Evening Gazette, September 7, 1886
The borax business ain't easy.
"There is yet another borax deposit, owned by the Nevada Salt and Borax Company, at Rhodes Marsh, 12 miles north of Teal's marsh. There has not been a great deal of money in borax in the past, but there will probably be more in the future. we could make more were it not that we have to compete with foreign boraxes, the duty being light, thus enabling the foreign product to come here. This borax is in all instances found in the beds of old lakes. It is a fearful desert where I am. There are lots of tarantulas and rattlesnakes, but no wild game. It is too dry and uninviting." - J.W. Searles
-Reno Evening Gazette, July 19, 1887
In 1907, according to Nevada Post Offices- An Illustrated History, the post office name was changed to Dea. In 1908 it was changed back to Rhodes. No idea why.
As milling moved towards the cyanide process and away from the Washoe pan process, the other chemicals here attracted more interest. In 1928, Sodium sulphate, for instance, is mainly used as a filler in the manufacture of powdered home laundry detergents and in the Kraft process of paper pulping for making highly alkaline sulfides.
P. S. Williams, a chemical engineer, became interested in Rhodes Marsh as a source of sodium phosphate. For many years it was known that mirabilite occurred in the marsh in large quantities. In 1932, a plant capable of producing 150 tons er day was erected and was operated until 1933.
-RHODES MARSH DISTRICT (FROM USBM IC-6941) W. O. Vanderberg
Focus moved from salt and borax and more towards "salt cake," which was sodium sulphates and sodium phosphates.
The Rhodes Alkali & Chemical Corporation of Los Angeles is building a reduction plant on its extensive mineral deposits at Rhodes, nine miles south of Mina. Recent rains turned the marsh into a bog for several days and delayed work. The corporation is understood to have demonstrated at Rhodes some of the largest nonmetallic properties in Nevada, with an enormous tonnage of material exposed.
-Los Angeles Times, May 26, 1930
RHODES CHEMICAL COMPANY IS PRODUCING
The Rhodes Alkali & Chemical Corporation, which has an office in Mina and its main offices in San Francisco, has begun production this week in milling salt cake read for shipment to Gulf Coast and Pacific Northwest points.
K. G. Bell, superintendent of the mine, who has been here since starting of the present operation last May states that the crew will not be enlarged. The same men who have been digging out the salt cake will be employed in running it through the mill, which has a daily capacity of two hundred tons. The mine is located eight miles south of Mina in the historical Rhodes marsh. It was one of the first salt and borax deposits in the United States to be operated and during the civil war the product sold for a dollar a pound. At present the commercial value is about $50 a ton. When similar deposits were discovered in Death Valley and vicinity the value decreased as the supply was great enough to supply the demand. The product of the mine is known commercially as salt cake or thenardite. Chemically it is anyhydrous sodium sulphate. The salt cake is mined from a huge shallow open pit and comes out in almost pure form. The mill is to take the moisture from the rock that has not been entirely dehydrated by nature. In the early days over two hundred men were employed at the marsh. Thirty have been working for the last six months for the present company. The greatest demand for the salt cake now is by the Kraft paper industry, where it is used with wood pulp to make paper.
-Reno Evening Gazette, October 9, 1931
Things kept fairly busy here as the country slid into the Depression. For a while, anyway.
RHODES MARSH HAS MANY MINERS
Mina, Nev Maintaining the production record of one carload a day, milled at the Rhodes plant last week, tonight's shipment brings the total up to ten cars sent out in the last ten days. Constantly increasing orders for the Rhodes product, which has attained a high degree of purity, has made it necessary to produce an additional locomotive which is expected to arrive this week.Two steam shovels, one stripping the overburden and the other loading the crude product are being operated on a sixteen hour basis. Approximately one hundred men were on the payroll during the past week.
-Reno Evening Gazette, November 25, 1932
SODIUM SHIPMENTS ARE MADE
Gradually increasing shipments of sodium sulphate [at] the Rhodes Alkali * Chemical Company plant at Rhodes, nine miles south of Mina, is now forwarding two carloads weekly from the plant. Shipments are still being drawn from the finished stock pile which was created before the plant was closed last year. While the Rhodes product is rated high in purity and said to be very much in demand, it is almost impossible for this company to compete with prices on foreign products, officials state.
-Reno Gazette Journal, September 8, 1934
Anyway, German shipments of sodium sulphate in the 1930's as ship's ballast crashed the market here. Damn dirty Nazis anyway.
Old Marsh Near Mina Now Producing Non-Metallic For Paper Industry
Company Building Mill To Refine Sodium Sulphate
The production of sodium sulphate at the old Rhodes marsh ten miles south of Mina, is located entirely in Mineral county. Down at the vast dry lake, scene of sodium sulphate production in former years by Rhodes Alkali& Chemical Co., there is considerable activity as the new operating company speeds its program to get into production in the near future. This new company is the Nevada Chemical Co. Years ago, sodium sulphate was produced from this dry lake by the Rhodes Alkali& Chemical Co. About 1934 Germany commenced shipment of the sulphate to this country using it as ballast on merchant ships, and delivered huge quantities at such low prices that American producers could not compete. Since that time there has been no activity at the Rhodes marsh until the Florida corporation recently acquired the property. The sources of former supply from Germany are all located in the Russian zone of occupation. A completely new milling unit is being constructed at Rhodes to process the "globber salts" [actually "Glauber's salt," after the Dutch/German chemist and apothecary Johann Rudolf Glauber] which are recovered from the dry lake by dragline method of mining. The salts are trucked across the flat to the new milling unit. At the mill they will be fed into a crushing bin, taken by elevator to a large storage bin and from the latter fed to the classifier. From the classifier the material is conveyed to a huge rotary kiln where the moisture and impurities will be eliminated as the sodium is exposed to intense heat. At the far end of the kiln the "roasted" material is recovered in the "salt cake" form in which it is shipped from the mill to paper mills in Florida.
-Nevada State Journal, January 18, 1948
Miners also searched the lake beds for boron and many other minerals well into the 1960's and 1970's.
MINERAL COUNTY MINERS BUSILY HUNTING BORON
Lake Beds Searched For Cotton Balls
"Cotton balls," Charles Sayler writes, "are ulexite crystals several inches in diameter, resembling balls of cotton, which come to the surface of marshes such as Rhodes, Teels, and Columbus, and these nodules are rich in boron."
-Nevada State Journal, June 15, 1957