Thousands of visitors will converge upon the town of Portal this coming weekend to enjoy a celebration of the town's rich agricultural heritage — the Catface Country Turpentine Festival.
The festival, which was only a one-day event for many years, returned to its two-day status last year and organizers promise double the fun this year on Saturday, Oct. 4 and Sunday, Oct. 5, said festival committee member Jerry Lanigan.
"The two-day event, sponsored by the Portal Heritage Society, Inc., and the Town of Portal, is held each year in recognition of the town’s historical association with the turpentine industry," said Edith Stanley, who is also a festival committee member and member of the heritage society.
"The term 'catface' arose many years ago from the slash marks resembling a cat’s whiskers which were cut into the trunks of pine trees by turpentine workers in order to gather sap for the processing of turpentine," she said.
Turpentine production was once a thriving business in the now-sleepy community in northwest Bulloch County. The town celebrated its 100th anniversary this year.
"The small but warm and friendly town of Portal opens its arms each year to visitors from all over, welcoming them to share in its celebration," Stanley said. "It is a time for folks to just relax and enjoy the outdoors and to make new friends as well as reconnect with the old ones. It’s certainly something that citizens of Portal and surrounding communities look forward to year after year."
Lanigan said Portal Heritage Society members and town leaders decided to revive the festival's two-day status because vendors requested it and "in the past we did it, and decided we'd like to go back and have Sunday afternoon gospel singing."
The events kick off on Saturday with a parade through the town at 10 a.m.
Parade grand marshals are Portal Mayor Larry Motes and town council members "in recognition of Portal’s 100th anniversary," she said.
After the parade, visitors will make their way to the center of town, where the Carter Turpentine Still is located. It is one of the only operable turpentine stills in the state.
Visitors can enjoy educational exhibits, musical entertainment, arts and crafts vendors, kiddie rides and games for all ages, including horseshoes, bingo, and a cake walk.
"A log-cabin style playhouse will be open for children to enjoy during story-time, and the kids will have loads of fun at the woodworking booth sponsored by Lowe’s," she said.
Food will be available from a variety of vendors and will include barbecue sandwiches, chicken dinners, funnel cakes, hamburgers, hot dogs, Italian ice, and the festival-famous rosin-cooked potatoes.
"Organizers emphasize, however, that alcoholic beverages are strictly prohibited for sale or consumption during the festival," Stanley said.
That goes for the street dance as well. The event is a family-oriented affair, and at 7 p.m. Saturday, the Variations will perform, she said.
Visitors will be able to purchase bags of freshly ground cornmeal and bottles of old-fashioned turpentine. An exhibition of turpentine cooking will take place mid-afternoon on Saturday, and tours of the turpentine museum will be conducted throughout the day, Stanley said.
Entertainment will be available throughout the day Saturday and Sunday, Lanigan said.
Saturday will feature several local singers, a performance by the Silver Liners line dancing group and Eddie Lotts Tae Kwon Do Black Belt Academy. Sunday, when the festival reopens at 1 p.m., local churches including Portal's First Baptist Church, the Guernsey family from Douglas; Jimmy Page from Metter; the Pine Grove Baptist Church choir and Johnson Grove Church choir will perform.
"Also in conjunction with festival activities on Sunday, but a little farther down the road, a heifer show will be held at 2 p.m. at Portal Middle/High School’s Bill Brown Agriculture Building, located just off Highway 80 adjacent to Portal’s Centennial Park," Stanley said.
There is no admission fee for the festival.
Visitors will be able to order DVD copies of “Between Hopeulikit and Piddleville,” the folk life drama held earlier this year in recognition of Portal’s centennial, she said. Viewings of the play on DVD will be conducted during the festival. Proceeds from Portal’s annual Catface Turpentine Festival are used to fund community activities and historical preservation projects.