Wapno, a small village in Poland, is widely known for its rock salt mining industry. The whole industry started in 1828 by Florian Wilkonski. The 20-year-old guy was unhappy that the village’s land was unsuitable for arable farming. For this reason, he did some research and found out that the soil was very rich in gypsum. So, he wasn’t unhappy anymore. He had set his mind now to exploit this resource instead. Ever since the first year, he was able to extract around 200 tons of gypsum. In 1953, his company saw that things were going quite good so they installed a mining steam engine. Thanks to this engine, the company reached a production level of 5,000 tons annually in 1959.
Florian was the type of guy that was quite active in society. He participated in many uprisings and national liberation movements. However, this turned out to be not such a good decision. These activities would later become the reason that brought him to the attention of the police which would be the main potential reason why he decided to sell his estates in 1866.
After Florian, Bolesław Moszczeński became the new owner of the land. He had this position from 1869 to 1873. Boleslaw too continued mining, but he also conducted some different tests. According to him, these reserves of gypsum were not inexhaustible. Through these tests, he found out that there was rock salt underneath the gypsum deposits.
He was quite content about the news. However, the extraction of the rock salt would take a significant investment that Moszczeński wasn’t going to risk. So, in 1897, he sold the place to another owner; the Bollmann company. The company invested quite a lot in the place. It built a mill, warehouses, and even a narrow-gauge railway. Through this railway, the gypsum would be transported from the mine to the railway station.
In 1907, the Belgian chemical company Solvay S.A. bought a mining permit for Wapno. In 1911, a mine to extract the rock salt was finally founded. That marks the beginning of the salt production in that small village. As the salt mine became and more successful, more residents were attracted to the village. This made possible the expansion of the mine the building of a mechanized salt processing salt.
By 1931, the company was producing around 100,000 tons of salt each year. Four years later, as the mine was thriving, the owners saw it rational to build a school for the children of the mineworkers who had helped them from the beginning. They knew that they owed to all the workers for all of their effort so this was kind of a way of saying “Thank You” to them. Profits from the mine were responsible for all the costs of the school.
During World War II, the production of the salt drastically declined. However, it soon expanded again right afterwards. After WWII though, there was a slight change in the village. It was not called Wapno anymore. Instead, it was renamed Salzhof.
It was at this time that it was discovered that there was only a very weak insulation layer that separated the mining works from the water beneath. If the mining extended into level III which lay at 754 feet, then everything could be destroyed. Things were going quite great for some other years. Well, that was until 1977, right after it was decided to extend operations to level III.
It was August 5, 1977, when the largest disaster in the history of Polish industry took place. On this day, the insulation layer broke and the water from the nearby lake flooded the mine fully.
Many of the current residents left the village forever after that. The flood destroyed the entire village and made it inaccessible for about two years. However, not many people knew about the disaster as it was kept away from the news. Fortunately, nobody was killed.