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Turpentine, naval stores big business in Bulloch Co.
Bulloch History
roger allen
Roger Allen

Note: The following is one of a series of columns looking at the origins and growth of the agriculture industry in Southeast Georgia and Bulloch County.

The Statesboro News issue of June 12, 1903 shared an article from the Journal of Trade announcing the opening of the “Pine Product Factory at Shearwood” established C.E. Broughton of Savannah.

Broughton said he “has contracted for the sale of all of its output for the next three years on the basis of its present productive capacity...(and) expects to engage new capital and enlarge the plant in the near future.”

He claimed that he “turns out a spirit turpentine which answers all the purposes of the turpentine obtained in the old-fashioned way of bleeding the trees.”

Burroughs explained, “he uses his own invention and not the Bilfinger or any other patented process.” He declared, soon “there will be large numbers of such factories all over the pine belt.”

In the magazine Paint, Oil, and Drug Review issue of July 29, 1903, there was a notice about “Wood Distilling Patents.” The article also revealed the existence of “the Georgia Pine Turpentine Company.”

It stated, “Dr. C. W. Bilfinger was the original patentee of the process: patent #658,888 (1900) for a wood-distilling apparatus, and patent #674,491 for distilling wood...and saving the by-products (1902)."

One of the businesses located in Collins was the Georgia Pine Turpentine Company, which produced 1,400 gallons of crude tar per day and employed 100 men with a monthly payroll of $8,000 to $10,000.

J.H. McMahon’s article, “Long Cotton Makes...Sea Island Growers Sing a Prosperity Air,” was published in the magazine, The Cultivator for the...Country Gentleman Devoted to...Agriculture (1918).

In it, McMahon reveals a brand new mechanical aid in the Naval Stores industry. One was the “Pine Stump Distillery.” He revealed “There is a plant at Statesboro to convert...worthless pine stumps into useful materials.

And, “The farmers are glad to donate their stumps." McMahon declared, “I visited the pine-stump distillery...operated by a former county agent...I was almost knocked over by a poison gas.”

Next, many “secret things (are) derived by the ingenious owner from the lowly stump...high explosive is (one), invented by the proprietor...(and) common products as tar, turpentine and pine oil.

McMahon revealed, “The process is dry distillation...the stumps (are) placed in iron retorts...above conical brick furnaces...A gummy, black substance oozes from the smoke veiled witches’ caldron.”

In a curious reference, McMahon goes on to reveal the “sulphuric fumes suggest an unbottling of profanity stored in the pine stump by generations of aggrieved farmers.”

The article “Georgia’s Great Strides, As an Outsider Found Them” published in the Americus Times-Recorder of October 14, 1920 declared “There are millions in it for someone who will invent a portable (machine).”

It explained that with a “ is sometimes cleared for nothing by stump distillers or enough is paid by stumps to defray the clearing cost with a little profit thrown in.”

Later, the Bulloch Times-Statesboro News-Statesboro Eagle issue of Aug. 17, 1933, revealed that “Naval Stores Plant Begins Operation.” The article stated “there has been placed in operation a naval stores concentration.”

And, “Located on the property of the Georgia & Florida Railway, at the southern limit of the city, the plant is being operated by Turpentine and Rosin Factors Inc.

P.J. Rooney of Savannah was the manager of this plant, where they had storage space for 4,500 drums of rosin and storage tanks capable of holding 19,000 gallons of spirit of turpentine.

Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. E-mail Roger at

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