Turpentine Births Modern Day Jacksonville

The turpentine and resin industry was a driving force behind the development of 19th century port cities like Pensacola and, of course, Jacksonville. Once Florida’s largest industry, and one of the oldest industries in the United States, turpentine is a ubiquitous ingredient in American household products including paints, medicines, hair spray, and cosmetics (to name a few). Here's a brief look at its impact on Jacksonville over the last century.

Published July 6, 2015 in History - MetroJacksonville.com

The turpentine industry was flourishing in the form of camps near the Micanopy area in the late 1800s.  Collectors were mostly African-Americans who scraped gum, or tree sap, into barrels for transportation. However, boiling gum in kettles was tedious and expensive. It was later determined that it was more economical to transport the barrels to places like Jacksonville for processing into turpentine. A 50-gallon barrel of this raw gum would yield about 11 gallons of turpentine and about 330-440 pounds of resin after a distilling process.

Collecting the crude gum from the cups after it has dripped from the tree into the receptacles. Courtesy of Naval Stores: History, Production, Distribution and Consumption, 1921.

One particular kind that was prevalent in North Florida in particular was Oleoresin, better known to turpentiners as “pine resin.” This was a natural byproduct of certain types of pine trees and was handled frequently in Jacksonville. This pine resin would be extracted from the trees by laborers and then distilled to give us what was known as “spirit turpentine.”  This turpentine was originally used for sealing wooden ships to protect against leaks, which is why it eventually was given the nickname “naval stores.”

Jacksonville quickly became the Atlantic capital of the 'naval stores' industry. In 1908, the National Transportation & Terminal Company, a subsidiary of the American Naval Stores Company, moved headquarters to Jacksonville from Savannah, Georgia. The yard was located at the intersection of Enterprise Street (now Beaver Street) and Stockton Street. However, as the industry in Jacksonville continued to grow, a larger terminal at Commodores Point, along the St. Johns River, rose to prominence.  

General view of Jacksonville Naval Stores Yards at Commodores Point Terminals, showing turpentine warehouse, turpentine tanks and rosin yard. Courtesy of Naval Stores: History, Production, Distribution and Consumption, 1921.

During the season ending April 1, 1920, 332,128 barrels of rosin and 89,748 casks of turpentine were handled through Jacksonville. However, in 1924, Savannah took back the lead from Jacksonville as the principal port for naval stores exporting. By 1936, almost 60% of the world production of turpentine was from the southern United States. 60% of that production occurred in Georgia and 30% in Jacksonville.

Loading rosin for foreign shipment at the Jacksonville Naval Stores Yard in 1921.. Courtesy of Naval Stores: History, Production, Distribution and Consumption, 1921.

Regardless, these numbers were still positive for Jacksonville. But by the 1950s, the days of chipping and dipping gum from pines were coming to an end. The 50s brought new methods of extracting turpentine that were cheaper and less labor- intensive. Pulpwood mills would emerge, cutting up pines into chips and then boiling them. This would lead to a quick out-producing of traditional turpentine operations.

The old Commodore Point naval yards terminal site is now used for game day tailgating near Everbank Field.

Nowadays, turpentine is used for medicines, solvents, paint thinners, and other items.  Resin has been utilized for everything from glue for envelope flaps to ingredients in ointments & plasters. While perhaps not as “big” of an industry today, remnants or “lasting legacies” from Jacksonville’s turpentine era can still be seen.

Article by Kristen Pickrell

Next Page: Turpentine Legacies of Jax

Turpentine Legacies of Jax

Here are a few places surviving today that are directly related to Jacksonville's era as a major turpentine production center.

Residential Living on Riverside Row

1541 Riverside Avenue: A remaining mansion that once belonged to James L. Medlin, a turpentine magnate.  Medlin and other turpentine industrialists were jokingly referred to as "the Gum Bunch" in the area. Medlin and his family owned this house for nearly 60 years.

1521 Riverside Avenue: this home was owned by William Kelly, a man that was part of the “Gum Bunch.” Kelly was the vice president of the Naval Stores Export Company in Jacksonville.

Fragrance Manufacturing in Jax

IFF International Flavors & Fragrances: This company got its start in the turpentine industry. IFF began in 1958 as a merger between Polak & Schwarz and van Amerigen-Haebler. Today, they are still operating a location in Jacksonville, but their products have shifted to primarily flavor and fragrance products.  

Renessenz, LLC.

Renessenz LLC: Renessenz dates back to over 100 years ago, where it started off as the Standard Turpentine Company. While Renessenz got its start in the naval stores industry, today, it operates as a flavor and fragrance company, too.

Florida Metal Products Inc.: A 1923 manufacturing metal cup and gutter products for the turpentine industry under the leadership of Lee B. Jones.  Over time, as the turpentine industry became replaced by synthetics, they began producing building products instead.

Land Development in Daytona Beach

Consolidated Tomoka's Tomoka Town Center development will soon feature a 400,000-square foot outlet mall by Tanger Factory Outlet Centers at I-95 and LPGA Boulevard.

Consolidated Tomoka Land Consolidated: This company began in 1902 under the name Consolidated Naval Stores Company. This company specialized in harvesting gum from long leaf yellow pines to create turpentine for ship maintenance. It became one of the largest naval stores in the world, owning 2 million acres of land across Florida alone. The company was bought in 1923 by Baker, Fentress & Company of Chicago and given the name we know it by today.

Turpentine Give Way To Jax's Burgeoning Southside

Richard Green Skinner: Skinner came to Jacksonville in 1899 in search of pine trees to harvest for sap to produce turpentine for his marine supply business. In his time in Florida, Skinner accumulated 40,000 acres of land. Since then, most of it has been converted into real estate  by his descendants. JTB, Southpoint, and Deerwood are just a few examples of developments built on Skinner property.

This article can be found at: https://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2015-jul-turpentine-births-modern-day-jacksonville

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