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9b. Turpentine Stills in Taylor County

The following is a series of articles written by Louise Childers for the TACO Times in 1976.

Remember the old turpentine stills?

From The TACO Times, July 15, 1976

By Louise Childers


Gone are the stands of virgin timber; gone are the towering long-leaf pines with their heavy crown and slash markings extending upward on both sides of their trunks; gone, also, is the industry that grew from the product obtained from the “wounds” if the tree; and with it, a way of life.


              That industry known since colonial times as Naval Stores, meant turpentine and resin to those who operated the stills in Taylor County. 


            Natives point out the sites of the old stills: “Here’s where the 9-Mile Still was located; Potts’ Still was here; Huxford’s Still was on that road; Aycock-Lindsey was here; and H. J. Westberry has a still here. And nearly all remember to mention in an odd way, “Captain Brown operated along the beach road.”


         For the first three decades of the century, Taylor County held its own in the tremendous production of naval stores. During this period Florida took the lead from Georgia from 1905 to 1923 in the production of turpentine and rosin and other by-products.


              This is not intended to be a technical paper; if one is interested in the methods used then and now, information is available from many sources. And much that will be related may sound simple to those who grew up in the area during the era of the Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company, for in those days the big still operations brought money into the area and were the basis of fortunes for those who got out before the market collapsed as it did in the ‘30’s.


         Sometimes it is good to remember 00 to recapture with words the days when the peculiar aroma of the distillation spread out over large areas. And too, to remember when the huge hogsheads were loaded and transported to ports like Jacksonville and Pensacola to be sent over the world.


         The writer’s material has been obtained from a book on Naval Stores, circa 1934, published in 1928 in one of the local newspapers, and most important, by talking with those who lived during the period and many whose families were active in the business.


         Information as to the location of many of the operations came from Mr. R. H. Woods who was county surveyor for many years in Taylor County. A search through the courthouse records revealed details of dates of sale of lands, leasing of acreage and other pertinent information. If mistakes are made, the writer would appreciate being corrected. And most important, if one knows additional information would they please pass it on.


         For the beginning of this industry, one might even go back to biblical times. Then, as a by-product from the Pines of Macedonia, came the pitch and tar that was used in caulking boats. It is recorded that the material was boiled in iron pots, the vapors being caught in fleecy sheepskins. It is reported that one of the products was used as mummy lacquer.


         It was not until colonial times that the name Naval Stores was given to the products. As early as 1608, stills were operated in Virginia; then in 1620, in the New England states and later in the South. In fact the name “tarhill” given to the natives of North Carolina is supposed to have had its origin in the production of Naval Stores started here in 1665.


         From 1875 to 1905, Georgia led all states in production. In 1850, Florida accounted for only 1.05 percent of total production. But it increased to 53.67 in 1910 with a gradual decline to 37.40 in 1919, 39.95 in 1925, and finally in 1933 28.77 percent. This standing was based on production in the leading southern states which included North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Georgia took the lead from Florida in 1934 with 55.05 percent.


         In the early days, the work was carried on in a small way. Individuals owning large tracks of timber, would gather the turpentine in small quantities. Those who were impatient with the gradual flow, would “box” the tree.


         This meant that in place of the “streak” of ¾”, they would cut into the trunk near the ground and insert a container. By this method, they thought they could obtain more resin. In this they were mistaken, for the resin was not the sap or the tree. Instead, it was the way nature had provided for the tree to heal “its wounds.” The oozo would come out and form a protective shield. In boxing, the tree was weakened and laid open to damage from insects.


         Fortunately, this method was outlawed in 1901. The lumber companies were primarily responsible for the prohibition because they had long realized that wood from these trees was inferior. Then, too, in high winds, the weakened trees were frequently blown over.


         The method of extraction by “facing” the tree and waiting for the slow formation of resin continued for many years until research found a faster method. This was the application of an acid to the streak which increased the flow. However, this was not used extensively until 1940 or so.

Remember the old turpentine stills?

From The TACO Times, July 22, 1976

By Louise Childers



One fact is evident, the turpentine industry was not a simple cut and dried operation. In the beginning there was constant reassignment of leases and sales of equipment back and forth. Many men operated both stills and sawmills. And of course, along with this when the commissaries and even living quarters for the workers. Companies were formed, then changed hands.


         The earliest leases found in the courthouse records are dated 1902. There are possibly more transcriptions not in the lease books which might be found under the miscellaneous category, according to Ralph Carlton. Clerk of Court. However, the first four or five books deal mainly with turpentine leases with only a few timber leases entered.


         Urban Potts, who is reputed to have operated the first still, purchased 40 acres of land in October 18, 1900, located in Section 23, Township 5, Range 7 East. This location is about one and a half miles east of what is now called State Road 361-A. He paid $30.00 for the land. He continued to lease land until 1925. Some of the owners of the land were: J. R. Mathis, John R. Kelly, D. S. Register, W. R. Carlton, F. A. Pridgeon, J. L. Hogan and H. C. Dorman. In addition he obtained 120 acres of land from the General Land office in 1912.


         From that time on, stills were operated on at least fifteen sites in Taylor County. Coming into the area at about the time as Potts, were two brothers – D. G and J. H. Mallory. Both men either came directly from North Carolina or else had been working in the Carolinas and Georgia prior to 1903. In county records the Malloy name appears as turpentine lessors, saw mill operators, and purchasers of many acres of land, both from the local people and from the General Land offices.


         The first lease in the Malloy name is dated August 13, 1902 when Duncan G. made an agreement with S. H. Peacock for two sections of land. This was in Section17, Township 4, Range 8 and Section 20, Township 4, Range 8. The document specified that the land would be measured and the timber “boxed” starting the winter of 1903, and continuing for three years. Malloy was to pay Peacock $600 “in hand” when the lease became effective. And he was to pay $27.50 per thousand boxes. This land is close to or in the present city limits.


         In a later lease dated June 10, 1903, the Malloy Brother’s obtained 200 acres from S. T. Lundy. The land was located in Section 29 and 30, Township 7 and Range 8. The amount agreed per box was $35 per thousand.


         The lease spelled out the operation as follows: “No box to be cut in a tree under nine inches – said boxes to have one streak each week during chipping season.”


         To continue with the involved operations of the Malloys, it is interesting to note that they engaged in business with Potts, J. B. Smith, and frequently went under the names of either D. G. Malloy alone or as brothers. D. G. Malloy was also a lawyer and he needed to be one to keep the innumerable agreements that he made. It is a good thing that income tax did not exist in those days for the Internal Revenue Bureau would have gone crazy checking the Malloy’s records.


         The Malloys sold one-third interest in a still and commissary to J. B. Smith December 21, 1905. A note of added interest in the activities of these three men is the fact that they were among the small group who organized the First Presbyterian Church in Perry in 1905.


         In a later transaction, the bill of sale and reassignment of leases include a list of equipment needed in the operation


         Equipment listed included a 25-barrel still and fixture, pump and boiler, one horse, two 4-horse wagons, a horse wagon, buggy, 18 shanties, two dwellings, commissary building, five thousand cups of virgin boxes, five thousand cups of yearling boxes, 90 dip barrels, cooper shop and tools, spirit house, complete sawmill, barn, two log carts, and accounts. The last notation pertained to the amounts owing the commissary by the workers. The total amount to $911.04, with individual accounts ranging from $2.07 up to $328.24. The location of the still was near Salem. The same equipment appears again when the still was later sold to G. C. Huges.


         Another pair who had operations near what is now Perry was Blair and Hinely. Leases in their name nearly equaled those assigned to Malloys. But in a few years time, more and more names appeared. Indeed, the turpentine operations were booming business in Taylor County and well might have accounted for Florida taking the lead from Georgia during the first two decades or so of the 20th century.


         Hendry and Bass operated near Ebb, Potts was also in business with Melton. The two men operated as Melton and Potts.


         Lake Bird Turpentine Company was also among the early companies in the county. The names of F. L. McGauley and D. H. Mossir appear in connection with the Lake Bird operation. Other companies listed were the Salem Turpentine Company, C. B. McLeod and Co., Kirkland and Co., J. S. Williams, who later operated as Perry Naval Stores and Wilder and Stripling.

Remember the old turpentine stills?

From The TACO Times, July 29, 1976

By Louise Childers



It was later that the other well known names entered the field. The Poppells, Holmes, Woods-Strickland, J. O. Huxford, H. J. Westberry and the largest of them all, Aycock-Lindsey, operated at many locations, including the 9-Mile Still. But the largest was at Athena.


         Nor can the name of Captain Brown be omitted, William Alston Brown operated in various capacities in the 20’s. He dealt in timber, sawmills, turpentine stills and the sponge industry that flourished for a few years along the Gulf.


              The Blue Creek area, in addition to being the location of the Blue Creek Turpentine Co., was the home base of Captain Brown.  His story was colorful, to say the least.




         What about the financial side of the complicated operation? Involved were the owner of the land, the operator of the still, the workers who collected the gum, the men who distilled it, the operation of the commissaries, the agents who sold the product, and those who helped finance the operation.


         In the early leases, the owners of the land usually received anywhere from $150 to $600 for use of his timber for a period of three years. Some leases ran up to four or five years with the money being paid when the lease was signed.


         The return to the land owner was based at first on so much per thousand “boxes.” In the beginning, the amount agreed upon was usually $25 to $27.50 per thousand. But the price varied according to the market and the quality of the timber.


         From 1903-5, the price ranged from $25.00 to $35.00 per thousand. Then in November 1905, H. C. Dorman and his wife entered into an agreement with U. Potts for land to be used for turpentine purposes located in section 22, township 5 and range 7. Potts paid the couple $150 down and agreed to pay $60 per thousand boxes.


         From 1911 through 1917, the going price ranged from $50 per thousand to as high as $80. In one case, the agreement specified $75 for green timber. Since much of the timber had been taped already, care was taken to distinguish between the new and old, a lease in 1916 specified that the landowner would receive 60% of purchase price for the yearling tree and 25% on the three-year boxes. In another instance, listed in 1912, the high price was $100 per thousand for virgin timber and $50 for “back boxes.”


         Although the old method of the deep cuts and boxes were supposedly outlawed, the term “boxes” continued to appear in leases. In 1913, one lease expressly stated that the operation should be “cupped” and no new boxes cut.


         In 1924, the going price was $100 per thousand and in 1932, it was listed as seven and a half cents per cup and, in 1933, at nine cents per cup. Later leases spelled out that the operator could “cup, chip, scrape, dip and work.” All gave in detail the rights of the owners of the property in addition to what the operator was legally allowed to do.




         What about the workers? How were they paid and what did they do? Preparation of the land for the operation was most important. Cleaning the brush and growth around the base of the tree lessened possibility of disastrous fires. Known as “weeding,” this work was performed with a hoe. A “weeder” received 25 cents per day for his labor.


         The first operation on the tree itself involved the making of the “face” or “streak.” This is accomplished by cutting a cavity near the base of the tree that was 3 ½ inches wide, 6 1.2 inches deep, and 12 inches long. But when cupping was done, a three-quarter inch streak was made with a number two “hack.” The tree was cupped first on one side and then, after waiting a period of two years, on the other side. At least this was recommended in a book released by the Florida Forest Service in 1934. Recommended frequency was twice a week in the warm months and less frequently or not at all in the cooler months.


         The size of the tree should not be “less than nine inches in diameter breast high.”


         Unfortunately, these precautions were frequently overlooked. It is reported that many trees were “faced” on both sides and up to a height of 20 feet or more, with no waiting period.


         Next step in the operation was the insertion of the clay or tin cup. Later, a dip orion was used to collect the gum from the cup.


         Another operation was “scraping,” which was the removal of dried gum from around the area. Frequently the same person performed both operations.


         The barrels were loaded on carts pulled either by oxen, mules or heavy workhorses and taken to the still.


         Usually, a family group was employed to handle this phase of the business. An overseer kept a close check on the workers.


         The next step involved the manufacturing process. The “stiller” put the resin or gum in the large copper kettle where it was distilled. From this process came the turpentine, resin, and another end product called dross. This was the residue left after straining the liquid. Local people used it for making fires.


         Most of the smaller operations shipped their products to large naval stores located at port cities. Well known distributors were Carswell Naval Stores, The Lurton Co., The Downing Co., and Taylor Lowenstine. Later, several firms merged to create the largest of all, Baldwin, Lewis and Pace Co.


         Prices fluctuated on end products. Operators had to pay fee to the factors. They also had to furnish supplies, finance leases, pay labor, and keep the employees’ accounts at the commissary. Many workers were never able to get out of debt and a large amount of money was always tied up in the accounts.


         Neither was their any protection for the operator or way to hedge against changing prices. He had to go in and make a lease at a certain amount per tree or face for a period of three years or more.


         Other obstacles confronting operators in later years were the widespread forest fires and new tax laws. Too, the method used continued to be too unscientific.

Remember the old turpentine stills?

From The TACO Times, August 5, 1976

By Louise Childers



By 1936 the largest turpentine operations in Taylor County had quit the business. Many changed over to sawmill operations. And here too, the small operation found it difficult to compete with the larger firms appearing on the scene.


         Names such as Burton-Swartz, Brooks-Scanlon, and Weaver-Loughridge appeared on timber leases or sale of lands. Standard Lumber Company and the West Coast Lumber Company were two other firms active in the county.


         But through it all, Taylor County maintained its role as a Pine Tree Capital.  The problem of unused land and the importance of maintaining the stands of timber were recognized for the first time. Reforestation programs came into being. Although the county’s virgin timber has disappeared, it has thousands of acres of second and third growth timber with additional thousands planted in seedlings and young pines. With scientific management and important advances in genetics, it seems safe to predict that pine trees will always occupy a prominent position on the Taylor County scene.


         Personal recollection


         Earlier in this article, it was said that the passing of the turpentine industry ended a way of life. Today, very few remain who vividly remember in detail the early days. However stories of the period – its characters and incidents – are still related by some of the old timers.


         Most agree that during the heyday of the turpentine industry the county was wild and life was rugged. Those who lived in that era were of hardy pioneer stock who seemed to thrive on the hard physical labor and a homelife lacking most modern conveniences.


         Descendants of these active in the industry provide interesting glimpses of the period.


         County Attorney John Westberry recalls vividly the still operated by his father. It was located in the vicinity of Foley. He recalled that a Leander Crabtree supervised operation of the still for his father. In addition to the still, Mr. Westberry owned a coopering shop to make turpentine barrels.


         Here, the staves were inserted in the base of the barrel. Bands were then placed around the barrel to make the staves snug and tight. Westberry recalls that as workers tightened the bands, they beat a tune to help their labor easier. He spoke of the cooking of the gum in the large copper kettle. Of how the resin was strained through hardware cloth with the leavings or dross being used for fires.


         According to an article in Perry Herald published in 1928, the Adcock-Lindsey Company was the largest turpentine industry in the world. Ben Lindsey, son of B. H. Lindsey, gave the following account of the Adcock-Lindsey operation. The firm operated in the largest continuous tract of virgin timber in the world. The land was bought from Brooks-Scanlon, the county’s largest land owner at the time. In 1928, the company acquired additional land from the Putnam Lumber Company. Most of the land was on a lease basis. Under terms of the lease, Adcock-Lindsey paid the landowners a percentage of the selling price of the product.


         Headquarters for the Adcock-Lindsey operation were at Camp Nathan near Athena.


         It was a paternalistic operation; wherein a close relationship was maintained between owners and workers. In addition to the mill, the company built schools, churches, and the inevitable commissary as well as homes for the workers.


         The commissary system – under which the worker obtained supplies and food in exchange for the records of his work – proved a blessing for the workers, at one time, Lindsey recalled, the company had over $100,000 owing them on their books for advance to workers.


         Primitive railroads made of poles were used to carry the gum from the woods to the still. Mules pulled the loaded flat cars along the crude track. Despite the tall tales of numerous rattlesnakes in the area, Lindsey could recall only one death from snake bite. The greatest danger, he said, was from lightening.


         One great blow suffered by the company was a fire in the San Pedro Bay area in 1928 which destroyed over seven million feet of lumber. Converted to sources of turpentine, this amounted to 1,000 faces of trees.


         So large was Aycock-Lindsey that they owned the tank cars used in shipping. The car hauled rosin to Chicago and turpentine spirits directly to the consumer market.


         In its peak year of 1928, the company employed 1,400 men and operated 11 stills. Records show 15,786 barrels of spirits produced and 54,358 barrels of rosin that year.


         In the years that followed, the operation began to decline. It was not until 1936, however, that it finally suspended operation.


         These articles have only hit the high spots in the history of the operation in Taylor County. There is much more that needs to be added. But at least, it proves that Taylor County is and has been a true Pine Tree Capital for many years.  

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