JOHN WESLEY POWELL AND "BIG GEORGE" CROOKHAM IN JACKSON, OHIO: THE MAKING OF A GEOLOGIST
Jackson (Salt Lick Town) was founded in 1795 as a salt-manufacturing reserve around the Scioto salt licks. Salt-boiling was a major economic resource for early settlers, where lessees evaporated dilute brines collected from pits in Salt Lick Creek and from deeper wells. The salt is sourced deeply but fractures and faults, combined with regional dip, provide hydraulic head for springs. Salt production ended around 1815 due to competition, and by the 1830s to1840s, coal and iron ore had become the most important economic resources.
George Lennox Crookham (1779–1857), an erstwhile salt-boiler and credentialed, well-read educator from Pennsylvania, established "Jack Oak College" near Jackson. Crookham collected Pleistocene fossils from the salt licks and served as local guide for the earliest geologic reconnaissance surveys of William W. Mather, Samuel P. Hildreth, and Caleb Briggs, Jr. The Crookham family (with his wife Sarah and 16 children), the Powell family, and most of the Welsh diaspora of Jackson County were ardent abolitionists. Because of the prevailing political climate at that time, young John Wesley Powell was bullied in public school, so he was placed in Crookham's college, where he discovered his passion for geology. Together, Powell and Crookham explored the geology of Salt Lick Creek gorge and pondered the remains of extinct Pleistocene megafauna. By 1846, pro-slavery mobs attacked the Powells, Crookham, Mather, and others at an abolitionist meeting on the Jackson County Courthouse steps. The Powells moved to Wisconsin shortly afterward. In 1847, pro-slavery activists burned Crookham's school and destroyed his collections. Sarah Crookham passed away in 1853. George moved in with his daughter and passed in 1857, the year Powell paddled the Ohio River.