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History of The Hickory Grove Turpentine Camp

Jacob Bembry: Greene Publishing, Inc.

Eloise Glass Stewart was born at the Hickory Grove Turpentine Camp; and for well over 100 years, the Hickory Grove community has been her home.

Mrs. Stewart’s parents, Fred and Eula Glass, moved to the Hickory Grove community in 1907. Mr. Glass leased the Hickory Grove Turpentine Camp from the E.E. West Company. The West Company owned

Photo Submitted
Workers are shown at a turpentine camp.

property at the West Farm, which was located just west of Lee. The small community in that part of the county still bears the name, “West Farm,” but it does not thrive as it did during its pre-Depression boom years.

Per a history of the area done by Mrs. Stewart, the Hickory Grove Turpentine Camp that Mr. Glass leased covered almost 2,000 acres. The camp had several thousand turpentine cups and one distillery.

At the turpentine camp was a commissary, where a young man named Frank Williams served as clerk. The currency in vogue at the camp was tokens, which were exchanged for staples, such as meat, grits, bacon, and syrup. In lieu of cash, the camps ran on their own currency and trade was made at the commissary, or the company store.

At the camp were ten houses. They were set apart in an area called “the Quarters” because the turpentine employees were housed there. The houses were referred to as “shanties,” due to the clapboard construction of the homes.

While the camp was running, the work crews would gather their work implements, including gum buckets, hacks, and lunch buckets and load up on the “Gum” wagon and head for the woods, where they would remove gum for turpentine from trees.

The workers were paid for each bucket they dipped and a concise record, called a “dip” record, was kept.

The Hickory Grove camp area was filled with natural long leaf yellow pine trees. The wooded area had beautiful wildflowers and there were majestic scenes of wildlife.

A close look at the pines afforded one a view of the scars left by turpentine knives near the base of the trees. These scars were called “cat faces” because the scarring resembled a cat’s face.

While the long leaf pines produced turpentine, which was an important solvent used at the time, they also provided tar and pitch.

Turpentine production was a long, tedious process, and it took special workers to do it, and it was hard to train and keep the workers. It also took a great deal of maintenance for the farms.

When autumn would come, cups were repaired and cleaned. There would be raking around the trees to protect the “cat faces” referred to earlier from wildfires.

When early spring would come, the trees would be chipped, which was the process of removing bark from the trees. Shallow v-shaped cuts would be incised in the sapwood of the trees.

After these things were done, gum would come oozing from the trees into tin cups placed beneath the cuts. Later, the tin cups would be replaced with clay cups, and new cuts would be made above the first cuts to keep the sap flowing. These cuts would be worked until fall when the gum would no longer flow.

The gum would be processed at the distillery, or “still,” with wood being used for fuel. The gum would be dipped into vats and boiled in water, giving off a pleasant, sweet odor.

The turpentine, which was lighter than water, rose to the surface, and was siphoned into barrels, which were loaded on wagons, pulled by mules, and carried to West Farm from Hickory Grove.

From West Farm, turpentine would be shipped all over the world, where it would be used in paint thinners and varnish and later in pharmaceuticals.

Several liniments including Sloan’s, Watkins White Crème, and Easy Rub utilize turpentine. Vicks Vapor Rub and Numol are two other products that include turpentine.

In the 1940s, the turpentine industry began moving out of Madison County, and the last turpentine distillery in the country shut its doors in Baxley, Georgia years ago.

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