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Bulloch County’s senior forester talks turpentine at DAR luncheon
Guest speaker shares history of once-important local resource
Georgia Day luncheon.jpg
Guest speaker for the Archibald Bulloch Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution Georgia Day luncheon, Doug Chassereau holds up a piece of rosin from a slash pine tree during his talk about the history of the turpentine industry in Georgia.

For Doug Chassereau, a fading piece of local and US history is very personal.

Chassereau, the chief senior forester for Bulloch County, was the guest speaker Thursday at the 21st annual Georgia Day luncheon hosted by the Archibald Bulloch Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution. The DAR is a service organization that promotes and encourages historic preservation, education and patriotism.

The event, held in February each year, recognizes the landing of General James Edward Oglethorpe and 116 colonists near what is now Savannah on Feb. 12, 1733.

Speaking about the role of Georgia in the forestry and turpentine industry, Chassereau shared that the first production of pine gum in Georgia was in 1744, and by 1960, Georgia led the nation in pine gum production. 

However, 2001 saw the end of the turpentine industry in that fashion.

Chassereau said the industry faded because of labor costs, the black turpentine beetle and the destruction of the tree’s value due to the cuts made in the bark of the tree for gum extraction.

“The Georgia Museum of Agriculture, ABAC, in Tifton and the Portal Turpentine Festival are the only two places in the entire United States that you can see a historical wood fired turpentine still in operation,” Chassereau said. 

If those events that happen one time a year for educational purposes dissolve, a piece of history fades, and Chassereau is passionate about keeping those historical sites open. 

Chassereau’s passion for the industry came about long before his 25-year career began.

Chassereau’s grandfather, David Butler worked in Savannah and was also a turpentine farmer and gum buyer. From his home in Bryan County, Butler drove a flatbed truck to smaller farmers in surrounding counties that included Bulloch County to purchase gum extracted from pine trees from smaller farming operations to then deliver to a gum processor in Vidalia. 

Chassereau often rode with his grandfather on the gum truck, arriving at the processor plant after hours. 

That gave Chassereau the freedom to walk around on the gum deck while his grandfather offloaded. Barefooted, he said. 

“The gum would spill over onto those decks, and they were quite sticky. My mother would sometimes scold me because I would leave footprints all over the house when I got back home.

“I guess I got too much on my feet and couldn’t wash it off, because here I am, still in this industry after all these years.”

Chassereau said that he sold his first barrel of gum at the age of 12.

The forester also revealed during the Valentine’s Day luncheon another personal part of his passion for the industry – he met his wife at the Portal Turpentine Festival in 1995. Chassereau in married to Karen Durden, from Portal, and the two reside in Statesboro now.

Turpentine, the liquid obtained by the distillation of resin from live longleaf and slash pine trees, is used for pharmaceutical and cosmetic purposes, mainly, and in some food markets. Chassereau said Brazil is the leading producer for US turpentine imports.

With research in a new borehole method of collecting pine gum, turpentine production in the US could possibly return. 

“The old turpentine industry is a thing of the past, but in the future, we’ll see,” Chassereau said.

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