Salt: The Hutchinson Salt Member of the Permian Wellington Formation was formed about 275 million years ago when the Permian Sea dried up. One of the largest in the world, the extent of this bedded salt deposit is 27,000 square miles in central and south-central Kansas and is marginal to Permian Basin salt deposits in Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, and southeastern New Mexico that cover 100,000 square miles. The purest portion of the salt vein at this location is 650 feet underground and is still mined here today. Strataca has access to about 300,000 square feet of mined out area.
Salt Discovery: Salt was discovered southwest of Hutchinson in 1887 by a land developer from Indiana named Ben Blanchard. He was drilling for oil to increase land sales and discovered salt instead. It was the first significant salt discovery west of the Mississippi. Today there are three salt companies in Reno County: Morton and Cargill operate brine evaporation plants and the Hutchinson Salt Company operates the original Carey rock salt mine in which Strataca is located. The original salt discovery site is open to the public in the city of South Hutchinson.
Carey Salt Mine: Emerson Carey, a local entrepreneur, opened The Carey Salt Mine in 1923. This mine remains the only rock salt mine in Reno County although Carey was also involved in the brine evaporation business. The original salt mine shaft is located just northwest of Strataca and is still used by the miners today. Now known as the Hutchinson Salt Company, over 500,000 ton of rock salt is removed each year. This salt is primarily used to de-ice roads across the mid-west and eastern US. For many decades, school children and other visitors were given salt-mine tours but these ended in the mid-1960’s when the mine was sold. To this day, Hutchinson is known as the “Salt City” and its rich salt heritage is apparent in local traditions. For example, the Hutchinson High School mascot is the “Salt Hawk.”
Kansas Underground Salt Museum (now known as Strataca): By 1999, the Executive Director and Board of the Reno County Historical Society recognized the importance of preserving and presenting the Hutchinson salt story to the public. It soon became apparent that the logical, yet most challenging solution would be to re-open a portion of the mine to public tours. Today’s attraction is the product of collaboration of the Historical Society and the two business entities that exist in the mine: the Hutchinson Salt Company and Underground Vaults and Storage. UVS is a large facility that is known for storing a vast number of original Hollywood movies, as well as millions of documents and items from all over the world in a secure and environmentally conducive environment. In the late 1990’s, when it was decided that in order to expand their storage business a new elevator or hoist would need to be built, a partnership was formed that resulted in the development of the museum.
Notable additions in the first six years include:
- The first Murder in the Mine interactive dinner theatre was held January 20, 2007.
- Opened to the general public May 1, 2007.
- The first underground scout campout held on December 8, 2007.
- The Visitor Center opened in July 2008.
- The movement of the GE Number 2 electric engine to the site from the Reno County Museum. Old Number 2 served the Hutchinson and Northern Railroad at the Carey Salt Mine from 1923 until 1963.
- KUSM was voted one of the “Eight Wonders of Kansas” in January 2008.
- The Salt Mine Express, underground train ride, opened to the public in March 2011.
- The underground restroom complex serving the Event Center opened in April 2012.
- KUSM celebrated its fifth birthday with a celebration on April 30, 2012.
- Development of the Salt Safari Adventure Hike began in Fall 2012 and was launched in October 2013.