By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Turpentine Festival celebrates Portal history
mmalee Elizabeth Haskins, 1, of Swainsboro hangs tight while dad William learns about distilling turpentine from Doug Chassereau of the Georgia Forestry Commission during the 32nd annual Catface Turpentine Festival in Portal in this October 2013 file photo. The elder Haskins said he learned a lot of things about turpentine he never knew before and remarked about how similar it was to making moonshine. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/file


10 a.m. — Parade

11 a.m. — Opening of Festival

3 p.m. — Pouring up of the run of turpentine

7-10:30 p.m. — Street dance with Sam's Drive-In Band


Live music, plenty of food, crafts and children's rides will bring folks from all over the region to the town of Portal on Saturday, when the community celebrates the 33rd Annual Catface Country Turpentine Festival.

The day kicks off with a parade at 10 a.m. through downtown Portal, with longtime residents Jack and Francis Turner as grand marshals. Both are members of the Portal Heritage Society, which hosts the festival, and Francis Turner is group's treasurer.

Afterward, the festival site at the historic E.C. Carter and Sons Turpentine Still, on Turpentine Drive, will attract visitors looking for food, fun and turpentine, said Dr. Roger Branch, one of the festival founders, a staunch supporter and lifetime member of the Portal Heritage Society.

The festival celebrates the town's rich agricultural heritage, which includes production of turpentine in the past. The festival gets its unique name from the slash marks made in pine trees when rosin is collected - the cuts resemble cat's whiskers, according to local folklore.

"A charge of (pine) gum will be run through the old fire-still again, a major historical and cultural event," Branch said. "The gum for the charge has been produced by Douglas Chassereau II, regional chief ranger for the Georgia Forestry Services, and is the only gum being produced in this area."

The approximate time for the firing of the still is 11 a.m., "but it is never a bad idea to be at the still earlier to observe preparations for the run," he said.
Turpentine will be available for sale afterward. Many people use it for a multitude of household reasons, including as an antiseptic.

The spirits house will also be the site of a turpentine museum, with Branch and Gaynell G. Wright as interpreters and teachers, he said. Tours of the still and museum will be held throughout the day.

"We have vendors coming from all over our area, including from Jacksonville, Florida, and Bluffton, South Carolina," said Jan Haggins, the president of the Portal Heritage Society. "We will have an array of crafts offered including bows, bags, flip flops, baby items, toys and novelties, scents, and wood crafts."

Food vendors will offer barbecue, smoked turkey legs, fried fish and chicken dinners, homemade cakes, sweet potato pies, homemade ice cream, funnel cakes, popcorn, candy and cotton candy, as well as Italian ices, frozen slush drinks, and freshly squeezed lemonade.

"One vendor will even be selling fried alligator," Haggins said.

The Heritage Society will have the Burger Barn open with hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, and "Bloomin' onions." Other Heritage Society members will be cooking and selling rosin-baked potatoes (sweet and white).

"We will have Catface Country Turpentine Festival T-Shirts for sale also," Haggins said.

There will be a cake walk Saturday afternoon. Sam's Drive-In Band will perform during the street dance, which begins at 7 p.m., and other local talent will perform throughout the day.

Entertainment will include performances by the Portal Middle High Band, State Prison Cloggers, MaCallen Thomas, the VIP Praise Team, the Silver Liner Dancers, The Brock and Collen Group, and a "special appearance by the King himself - Elvis," Haggins said.

"The Catface Country Turpentine Festival is likely the biggest event held in the north end of Bulloch County each year," she said. "It is an event that would not be possible without the Town of Portal and the community." Local government, school leaders, students and citizens band together to make the event possible. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes an entire community to put on a Turpentine Festival."

The festival has helped make a name for the town.

"This event brings in visitors from many areas who would otherwise not know where or what Portal, Georgia was," she said. "This event brings in revenue for our vendors, our Heritage Society as well as the merchants of the Portal area. While revenue is important, equally as important is the reminder of our heritage. Many of us can trace our roots back to men who followed the gum up and down the East Coast of the United States."

Turpentine and its byproducts were an original "green industry," she said.

"This industry was extremely important as it provided a way to seal ships during the time that sailing was so important to our nation and its economy, and was used as medicine for humans and livestock because of the natural antibiotic properties it had," Haggins said. "It could be and still is used as a liniment for horses and cows as well as athletes to rub on sore muscles. It was also given to children and adults as a remedy for colds, congestion and other ailments by putting a few drops on a teaspoon full of sugar and served as disinfectant."

The E.C. Carter and Sons Turpentine Still is the only operating still in Georgia which sits on the original site where it was worked.

"This in itself is a treasure for the Portal area as well as Bulloch County," Haggins said.

Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.


Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter