5 Reasons for Jacksonville's Smell

April 9, 2017 15 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Central Florida papers once described Jacksonville as an industrial city that sweats, and pretty much smells that way. This is a city that could use a shot of municipal-strength deodorant. On the other hand, local advocates countered that the city's rotten egg stench was the "smell of money". Here's a look back at the five places that once gave the city an image it's still trying to rid itself of.

Ever wonder why Jacksonville has an inferiority complex today? Despite the fact that 20 years have passed since the city started using municipal strength deodorant, it's long time acrid odor may have had something to do with it. For decades, Jax was described as an industrial city that sweats, and pretty much smells that way. On June 7, 1937, Samuel Kipnis announced to the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce at the Mayflower Hotel, his corporation planned to open a pulp and kraft paper mill on Talleyrand Avenue. Kipnis promised that his National Container Corporation would open a new frontier in Jacksonville industry, by creating hundreds of jobs, utilizing Northeast Florida's natural resources, and putting land on the tax rolls.

Opening in 1938, National Container's pulp and kraft paper mill delivered what Kipnis promised. However, that promise came with a smell. A smell many local civic advocates of the era described as the "smell of money". A pulp mill is a manufacturing facility that converts wood chips or other plant fiber source into a thick fiber board which can be utilized by a paper mill for further processing. Pulp can be manufactured using mechanical, semi-chemical or fully chemical methods. The early 1930s invention of the recovery boiler by G.H. Tomlinson was a milestone in the advancement of the kraft process. The kraft process (so called because of the superior strength of the resulting paper, from the German word Kraft for 'strength') quickly became the dominant method for producing wood pulp at a time when the American paper industry rapidly expanded throughout the south. Crude sulfate turpentine, the main byproduct of kraft pulping was the cause of the malodorous air emissions associated with pulp mills utilizing the kraft process.

Due to their substantial demands, mills of the early 20th century were typically located near large bodies of water, allowing them to discharge their wastes into them. The St. Johns River, an efficient rail network and the region's longtime forest products industry, made Jacksonville an attractive location. In 1953, St. Regis opened a kraft paper, board mill, and new pulp manufacturing facilities along the St. Johns River, a few miles north of National Container. Business was so good that St. Regis expanded the mill in 1957, increasing its pulp capacity to more than four times the original. By 1969, 40% of Florida's paper industry's production capacity was in the greater Jacksonville area. Locally, the industry employed 7,800. However, the negative side effect was bad air quality and pollution of the St. Johns River and its tributaries. To overcome these issues, the industry promised to spend $22 million in new antipollution facilities.

Map of industrial sites highlighted in article.

However, all the blame can't be placed on the mills. The city was also home to turpentine refineries and a JEA wastewater plant that all utilized crude sulfate turpentine in their daily operations. The concentration of industry in such a compact land mass led to an unforgettable smell that really put Jacksonville on the national map. In 1991, in order to phase out Jax's grotesque aroma, the City of Jacksonville enacted an anti-odor campaign, increasing fines for odor violations. The impact of this legislation was boosted by mergers and acquisitions in the national paper industry during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

One local mill was completely retrofitted, becoming a 100% recycling operation and another was shut down for good. Here's a look at the five major sites that once smelled up Jacksonville. Here's an update on the plants that were using crude sulfate turpentine, the worst source of odors back in 1991.

Stop by Metro Jacksonville's Book Launch Party at 6pm today at San Marco Bookstore learn more about Jacksonville's modern history. Click HERE for more information.

1. Buckman Wastewater Treatment Plant

Not all of the industrial facilities responsible for Jacksonville's bad odor were privately owned. In 1961, the City of Jacksonville's Electric Department implemented primary treatment at Buckman Wastewater Treatment Plant. 16 blocks of the Talleyrand Heights subdivision was removed to make room for the 48-acre industrial site.

Today, Jacksonville's largest sewage treatment plant hides behind a hedge of climbing plants just northwest of Southeast Toyota's operation. Buckman remains JEA's largest regional sewer plant, treating an average 26 million gallons of sewage each day. In 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency granted the plant its award for excellence for reducing its pollution violations from routine to rare. It has recently been upgraded to provide advanced nutrient removal advanced nutrient removal.

Stop by Metro Jacksonville's Book Launch Party at 6pm today at San Marco Bookstore learn more about Jacksonville's modern history. Click HERE for more information.

2. Bush Boake Allen (BBA)

In September 1933, the Nelio-Resin Corporation opened a crude turpentine refining operation on the outskirts of West Jacksonville. Nelio was acquired by the Union Bag-Camp Paper Company in 1964 for $4 million. Jacksonville became the home of the company's terpene and aromatics division. Here, raw material was processed from Union Camp's four pulp mills.

By 1981, the plant employed 200. In 1982, Union Camp acquired Bush Broake Allen (BBA) from Tenneco Inc. Bush Boake Allen had, at this time, 13 manufacturing or compounding facilities on five continents. Its operations were a good fit for Union Camp's own aroma chemicals business, which was based on distilling crude sulfate turpentine into intermediate terpene fractions and aroma chemical precursors. The addition of BBA gave Union Camp greater manufacturing capability to produce a broad range of these chemicals. The Jacksonville facility eventually fell under the BBA brand.

In 2000, International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) acquired BBA, making it the largest flavor and fragrance company in the world. Today, IFF continues to operate the turpentine plant that Nelio-Resin founded 82 years ago at 2501 Lane Avenue. In addition, between IFF and Renessenz, Jacksonville remains "the world capital for terpene aroma chemicals."

Stop by Metro Jacksonville's Book Launch Party at 6pm today at San Marco Bookstore learn more about Jacksonville's modern history. Click HERE for more information.

3. Jefferson Smurfit

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, https://floridamemory.com/items/show/246471

Sam Kipnis, a Russian Jewish immigrant, established the National Container Corporation kraft paper mill on Talleyrand Avenue in 1938.

During the early 1950s, National Container considered expanding the mill. However, the company ultimately chose to open a new mill outside of Valdosta, GA. That mill began operations in 1954.

National Container had become America's third largest box maker by the time it was purchased by Owens-Illinois in 1956. In 1958, the Talleyrand mill employed 1,057 workers.

Under court order to divest, Owens-Illinois sold the Talleyrand mill to Alton Box Board Company in 1965. In 1981, Jefferson Smurfit completed their takeover of the Alton Box Board Company.

The merger of Jefferson Smurfit and Stone Container in 1998 would be the downfall of the mill. The merger led to the removal of 1.1 million tons of capacity of duplicate operations. The Jacksonville mill, along with others in Circleville, OH, Alton, IL and Port Wentworth, GA were indefinitely shut down by years end.

The mill that produced the rancid smell that once blanketed the urban core was no more.

Keystone Properties, LLC began developing its 110-acre deep water port on the former site of Jefferson Smurfit mill in January 2006, and today moves approximately 1.5 million tons of dry bulk products through the terminal annually on behalf of multiple customers. Courtesy of Keystone Properties, LLC.

The Keystone Jacksonville Terminal began operations 2011 at the abandoned paper mill site.  The approximately 110-acre tract on the St. Johns River, which will eventually employ 200, receives imported coal, petroleum Coke and other bulk materials which are supplied to Keystone's customers by truck, rail or barge.  Keystone's first customer was Vulcan Materials Company, which signed a 20-year lease for 10 acres at the terminal.

Stop by Metro Jacksonville's Book Launch Party at 6pm today at San Marco Bookstore learn more about Jacksonville's modern history. Click HERE for more information.

4. SCM Glidco Organics

Glidden Company organic chemicals division plant during the 1960s. Here Turpentine is converted through chemistry into fine flavor chemicals, which are formerly obtained only from natural oils. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/38634

Located on a 54-acre site along Moncrief Creek, this century old site is the longest continuous operating manufacturing site in the City of Jacksonville. In 1910, the Standard Turpentine Company was established on the outskirts of town to distill pine tree sap into turpentine.

Out of the five major sites targeted by the city's odor fights of the 1980s, this one has had the most change in ownership. In 1936, it became a division of the Glidden Company. In 1957, Glidden was acquired by SCM Corporation. By this time, the city had grown up around the industrial facility. In 1986, Hanson PLC purchased SCM and renamed the Norwood plant SCM Glidco Organics. During the 1980s/1990s crack down on odor emissions by Mayor Tommy Hazouri, investments were made in advanced technology to control the release of foul sulfuric odors in the manufacturing process.

The plant became Millennium Chemicals in 1996, after the Hanson PLC demerger. Millennium was then sold to Lyondell Chemicals in 2004. Three years later, Lyondell was acquired by Basell, forming LyondellBasell Industries. In 2010, Pinova Holdings acquired LyondellBasell Flavors & Fragrances, leading to the formation of Renessenz LLC.

Today, the 105-year-old plant is still alive and well, employing 180 workers making over 20,000 tons of flavors and fragrances annually. Renessenz uses crude sulfate turpentine from paper mills to produce terpene-based fragrance ingredients and flavor ingredients for the oral-care and confectionery markets.

Stop by Metro Jacksonville's Book Launch Party at 6pm today at San Marco Bookstore learn more about Jacksonville's modern history. Click HERE for more information.

5. Seminole Kraft Corporation

An aerial view of the St. Regis Paper Company paper mill in 1956. This mill is now operated by Rock Tenn. Image courtesy of State Archives of Florida.

In January 1953, the St. Regis Paper Company opened the second large pulp and kraft mill in Jacksonville, along the Broward River. A massive expansion to the mill was completed in 1957. The expansion included a 1000-ton board machine which manufactured kraft board for the corrugated shipping container market. The enlarged mill would have more than four times as much pulp capacity as was originally built.

In 1983, the mill was sold to the Jacksonville Kraft Paper Company. At the time, the Jacksonville mill employed 690 and had an annual capacity of 128,000 tons of kraft paper, used in such applications as wrapping paper and shopping bags, and 337,000 tons of linerboard, also used in packaging.

The Jacksonville Kraft Paper Company shut down operations in 1985. A year later, it was acquired by Stone Container Corporation in 1986 and renovated as Seminole Kraft Corporation. At the time, Stone Container expected the renovated mill would have a daily capacity to produce about 100,000 tons of linerboard and about 146,000 tons of kraft paper, or about a total of 490,000 tons a year. Under Stone's ownership, the mill was used to supply outside customers, foreign buyers, and its converting facilities. At those facilities, linerboard was converted into corrugated containers and kraft paper was converted into paper bags and sacks.

WestRock's Jacksonville mill in 2015. Courtesy of Google Streetview.

Stone merged with Jefferson Smurfit in 1998, leading to the closure of Jefferson Smurfit's Talleyrand mill. In 2011, the RockTenn acquired the mill from Smurfit-Stone. In early 2015, RockTenn and MeadWestvaco merged, creating a $16 billion manufacturer of cardboard cartons and other types of boxes called WestRock. Today, it's the last remaining paper mill in the city with 590,000 tons of capacity. It's also a 100% recycled operation, eliminating the odorous kraft process that plagued the city's air quality for decades.

Stop by Metro Jacksonville's Book Launch Party at 6pm today at San Marco Bookstore learn more about Jacksonville's modern history. Click HERE for more information.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com