Tag Archives: Georgia Turpentine Industry

Captain C. C. Grace House, Circa 1864, Screven

Nine years ago, Lindsay Thomas, Jr., whose family owns and maintains this wonderful Georgia Centennial Farm, reached out to me about photographing the old home place near Screven. Lindsay’s father served in the United States House of Representatives from 1983-1993. Lindsay was very interested in documenting the large number of catface pines and Herty cups on the property. I still haven’t gotten around to making those photographs, but hope to someday soon. [For those not in the know, catfaces are the scars left behind by the collection of pine sap for the manufacture of turpentine. The naval stores business was dominant in this region until at least the 1950s.]

The farm, known as Grace Acres today, was established by Captain C. C. Grace, circa 1864, and the house was likely built around that time. The family has maintained a presence in the area ever since and they’re not only good stewards of the land, but they do a fine job of maintaining this historic home.

Turpentine Cabin, Emanuel County

Turpentine Cabin, Tetlow

This is about as good a view as can be had of this shotgun house in northwestern Wayne County. It’s located in the vicinity of Tetlow, which still exists on the map and in a nearby road name, but seems lost to history otherwise. Because there are the remains of several nearly identical shotgun houses at the site, I presume this was a turpentine camp at one time. The area in which its located was heavily involved in the naval stores and timber industries throughout much of the twentieth century; the camp was likely abandoned by the 1960s.

Colonel Edward Bird House, 1870, Guyton

Colonel Edward Bird (1825-1893) was a successful timber and turpentine operator before the Civil War. He joined Company A, Squadron B, Georgia Cavalry, as Captain. It was nicknamed Captain Bird’s Mounted Company, 2nd Battalion, Georgia Cavalry. Captain Bird was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on 17 May 1862 and took command of the 2nd Battalion. He transferred to the 5th Regiment, Georgia Cavalry on 20 January 1863 and was promoted to Colonel in 1864. He commanded the 5th Battalion until surrendering at Greensboro, North Carolina on 26 April 1865. After the war, Colonel Bird resumed his business and remained a prominent citizen of Guyton until his death.

Guyton Historic District, National Register of Historic Places


Historic Farmstead, Lowndes County

Isolated in the countryside near the Lowndes County ghost town of Delmar, this historic farm is one of the most intact collections of original agricultural structures I’ve ever seen in South Georgia. I’m grateful to Mandy Green Yates for bringing it to my attention. Mandy travels the back roads of South Georgia and North Florida finding lots of places like this. Follow her to see what she finds next.

I believe this was primarily a turpentine camp, as the area was well-known for large scale naval stores production. There would have been tenant houses here at one time, also. The structure above was likely the office for the operation.

My favorite structure is the commissary, which would have served all the needs of this small community.

The shingle-sided barn and water tower are amazing survivors, as well. The owners of the property should be commended for keeping this place in such relatively good condition throughout the years.

Turpentine Commissary, Toledo

Joe Hopkins writes that this the was commissary for the turpentine operations at Toledo. I would go there on Saturday mornings when I was a kid with my great uncle to pay off the turpentine employees. The store housed basic staples and dry goods for the workers living at the Toledo settlement and the business records of the company. The dirt road on the porch side of the commissary was the original road running from Folkston to St.George.


Shotgun House, Ellabell

This unusual shotgun house is half the depth of a normal version and features ornamentation uncommon in Georgia examples. Peeking inside, its’ small size is confirmed; it would more correctly be called a single pen house.

This was likely a tenant property. It’s not much bigger than the average den or living room in most modern homes. But to me,  it’s just as important to document these places as it is our finest architectural landmarks.

Though the following account isn’t related to this house, but I’m placing it here because this is the most popular of the Ellabell posts. I’m grateful to Lawrence Hyde for sharing.

Origins of Ellabell, Georgia – Lawrence Hyde

If you have ever wondered how the community of Ellabell got it’s name – Here is the story.

My GG Grandfather, John Morrison, set up a Turpentine Operation in Bryan County and named it for his daughter, Ella Bell, my Great Grandmother. Originally spelled “Ella Bell” somewhere over the years the words got mushed together into “Ellabell”. Here on out – to avoid confusion – I will refer to her by the family nickname “BG”.

When John Morrison married his wife, Iola Bell (Seriously – I can’t make these names up!), a young minister fresh out of seminary performed the ceremony. His name was Henry Van Dyke. He would become a prominent author and speaker later in life with his inspirational books and poetry. My favorite of his books is THE STORY OF THE OTHER WISEMAN. He also wrote the lyrics to Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.

When BG was about 4 or 5 years old, the French Actress, Sarah Bernhardt played Savannah. With a reputation for being a Huntswoman, John Morrison invited her out to hunt on the Turpentine Plantation. Family Lore has it that her private railcar was brought out to Ella Bell for a day or so. Iola Bell sent BG down with a pitcher of Sweet Milk. Sarah Bernhardt pulled her up on her lap and spoke to her in French while her maid translated. One of the family treasure is the milk pitcher that Sarah Bernhardt used.

BG graduated from the Lucy Cobb Institute in Athens. She was a talented artist and we still have a number of her paintings spread out among the family. This is my painting from her and it is the only one that she added LCI under her signature.

BG met and married my G Grandfather, John Carlton of Elberton when he took a job as the telegraph operator at Ella Bell. Thus the old joke – he married the boss’s daughter.

Plans for a real town – churches, fountain in the square, etc etc – were drawn up but the town never took off.

While John Morrison set up a few Turpentine Operations around the South, after Ella Bell – he set up another operation in Moultrie, where He and Iola Bell, John Carlton and BG, and my own grandparents are buried. I always crack the joke with roots so deep in Moultrie – that I am related to 1/2 the town by birth and the other 1/2 by marriage.

Parker Cabin & Commissary, Wefanie

While I was out photographing with Mike McCall today, we ran into Jimmy Parker, who noted that he was born in this cabin and restored it in recent years.

This commissary was part of the family’s timber and turpentine operations and was at its busiest during World War II.

South Georgia Snowstorm, 2018


Catface Turpentine Festival, Portal

Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Bad weather didn’t keep people away from this year’s 34th Annual Catface Turpentine Festival in Portal, which bills itself “The Turpentine City”. The recently named Bobby Ronald Newton Turpentine Museum (background, above) is the focal point of the festival. In 1982, Denver Holllingsworth and the Portal Heritage Society suggested restoring the old Carter still and with enthusiastic community involvement, the old boiler was finally relit. The Carter still is one of only three remaining in Georgia. The two other stills are located in Tifton and Walthourville.

Roger Branch in the Bobby Ronald Newton Turpentine Museum Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

As he’s been doing since the festival’s inception, Mr. Roger Branch is on hand each year and eager to tell you anything you might want to know about the history of what was once South Georgia’s biggest industry. Roger is the retired chairman of the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at Georgia Southern University and has always been interested in preserving historical and cultural aspects of life in South Georgia. I like to think of him as the “Ambassador of Turpentine”. The calendars behind him were produced for many years by the American Turpentine Farmers Association (ATFA) in Valdosta and feature annual winners of the Miss Gum Spirits of Turpentine contests. The ATFA disbanded in the early 1990s, as commercial production of turpentine disappeared from the scene.

Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA Carter & Son Marker Museum Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

There are several of these old markers on the walls of the Turpentine Museum, from the Carter & Son turpentine operations. F. N. Carter, Sr., put Portal on the map as one of Georgia’s centers of the naval stores industry in the 1930s and along with his son E. C. Carter maintained this vital part of the area’s economy until the early 1960s.

Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA Bottling Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

David King, from the Georgia Museum of Agriculture at Tifton’s Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC), is an expert on the distillation of turpentine and runs the old Carter still at the festival.

Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA Barrel Distillation Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

The museum’s namesake, Bobby Ronald Newton, was a longtime volunteer at the festival and was instrumental in preserving the area’s turpentine history.

Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA Bobby Ronald Newton Turpentine Museum Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

The little building beside the still is filled with all sorts of memorabilia, from signs and calendars to tools and even catfaces themselves. To those who don’t already know, the name catface was given to the slashes cut into pines to gather sap. They’re said to resemble cat’s whiskers.

Bobby Ronald Newton Turpentine Museum Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Also on display are Herty cups (below left) and other early innovations for the collection of sap.

Catface Turpentine Festival Portal Georgia Bobby Ronald Newton Turpentine Museum Herty Cup Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Perhaps the most popular item, though, is the hardened gum rosin itself, which has a gem-like appearance.

Portal GA Catface Turpentine Festival Gum Rosin Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

A variety of vendors and activities for the kids insure a good day at the festival.

Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA People Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Come and learn about this vital part of South Georgia’s history, and have fun in the process.

Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA Crowds Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

You might even try some Rosin Potatoes.

Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA Rosin Baked Potatoes Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Single-Pen Tenant Farmhouse, Long County

Long County GA Tenant Farmhouse Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

This has been well-preserved and is likely related to the turpentine industry.

Long County GA Tenant Sharecropper Farmhouse Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015