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Taking a look back at vanishing ways of life
03.20 echoes-turpentine
Above is the turpentine still. Naval stores, such as rosin and spirits of turpentine, were produced at turpentine stills. - photo by Photo provided

Over the past few weeks a piece of the landscape that had existed long before my 50-plus years slipped away. The remnants of the Weitman Turpentine Still were burned and scrapped.  

Although the main parts of the old still had long been gone, the shed and brick chimney were a constant icon in my memory.

Over the years, the shed out back was burned and bits and pieces had deteriorated. Long before Pomeroy Road was closed and ceased to exist, I remember occasional tractor rides in the spring with my father through Pomeroy Bay with the smell of the sweet yellow jasmine and fragrant bay flowers blooming. As you rounded the corner heading to my grandfather’s house, now my home, “The Still” was always there.  

The “Commissary” is however still intact, a testament to the naval stores industry. I realize that the site needed cleaning up and was barely recognizable as a still, unlike it’s hey day, but my trip down the road will never be the same. Firmly planted in memory and in existing photographs like the one in the article, “The Still” will live on.

Between 1910 and 1960 naval stores, as this industry was called, were part of the local economy. Sprits of turpentine and rosin were shipped to Savannah and were the principal income of many families. The Weitman, Morgan and Rahn families, to name a few that I can recall, were turpentine distillers. Raw gum which was dipped from cups attached to faced pine trees (these were known at “cat faces”) was hauled to a stilling plant.  

It was then cooked in the large furnace boiler with a copper condenser atop. The spirits of turpentine drained into wooden barrels, and then the hot cooked gum “let out” into a trough strainer. The strained rosin, an amber, almost glasslike substance, was dipped out into rosin barrels.  

The debris, that remained after straining, hardened when cooled was known as “dross chips.” The dross chips were good for starting winter fires. The pinelands were rented from landowners in agreements of leasing, the lease being 10,000 cups for a “crop.”  

The trees were faced by laborers and the underbrush burned annually to clear the workspace.  When trees became inactive they were cut and milled for lumber.  

Many workers lived on the still operator’s land or nearby and depended on the “commissary” or company store for needed items and staple groceries. Some got all or part of their earnings in goods rather than cash. These “commissaries” were also the post offices in some locations.

Exley Lumber Mill in Clyo is one of the few remaining lumber mills in production in our entire area. Timber is now cut in Effingham for poles, chips and pulp wood for paper production in addition to lumber. Our forests are no longer “cat faced” and disfigured by gum dipping. It is rare to see very old timber except on an occasional old family’s tract.  

Most timber farmers’ production is now short term compared to the days that are vanishing before our eyes as Effingham is developed, livelihoods change from our land to industry of different kinds and as people fail to preserve the valuable history that still exists.  

It is of interest that the Rahn Turpentine Still is restored and relocated to another site at the Agrirama, a farm exhibit, in Tifton.
Effingham Museum is proud to display the naval stores industry with our turpentine exhibit inside the museum as well as a second display outside on the Living History Site.  These areas will be features of Olde Effingham Days on April 18 on our site near the Courthouse in Springfield.  

This article was compiled and written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society.  If you have comments, photos or information to share contact her at 754-6681 or email: