Florida Society of American Foresters

Turpentine Industry State Historic Landmark

The Florida Division, SAF completed its project on March 8, 2005, initiated with a Foresters Fund grant to site a historical marker entitled:  “Turpentine: Family, Community and Industry”. The marker, approved by the Florida Secretary of State, Division of Historic Resources, was placed in front of the private cemetery portion of the Fairbanks, Florida Baptist Church, and gravesite of Ellis Mize on State Road 24.  His granite tombstone was carved into a “cat-faced” southern pine stem with Herty cups guttered to catch the flow of gum. Below the face was a carving of a mule-drawn dip wagon used to collect the barrels of gum.

Ellis Mize tombstone depicting a cat-faced southern yellow pine

 The Fairbanks community was home of the Mize family turpentine still. Several of the original buildings still stand and are functional for other purposes. The Mize family was a great friend of forestry, providing land critical to accreditation of the University of Florida’s School of Forestry by the Society of American Foresters in 1942. This site and others contributed to Florida leading the nation in turpentine production for over 2 decades, with the peak year of production being in 1909.

 The program was moderated by Florida SAF chair, Eric Jokela, and featured comments by representatives of the community, the Mize family and several persons with links to the industry from turpentine farming to gum processing. The program was concluded with unveiling of the marker by Wayne Smith, project chair, with assistance from Judge Vernon Mize, relative of Ellis Mize and Germaine Ferguson, representing a family that worked at the Mize Still. A spokesman for the Alachua County Commission read a proclamation passed by the commission declaring March 8, 2005 as “Turpentine Recognition Day” in the county.

Florida SAF Chair Eric Jokela (right) and Wayne Smith pose with the historic marker that commemorates the turpentine industry.
It brings attention to an important part of Florida’s forest history and the families and communities that it supported. 

Text of the Marker

The naval stores industry was important to maritime power worldwide. Pine tar and pitch were used to seal wooden ships and protect sails and rigging. When settlers came to America - in Florida (1565), in Virginia (1607) and in Massachusetts (1620) - they found vast pine forests with resinous tar and pitch, a scarce commodity for European competitors with wooden fleets. Settlers at first produced pine pitch and tar by distilling resin-soaked fat pine wood from dead tree logs, limbs and knots, covering them with soil and burning them to yield tar and charcoal. After fat pine wood became scarce, pitch was made by chopping deep cavities or "boxes" near the base of living trees to collect gum. Only crude gum was exported until simple distillation techniques separated volatile turpentine from the residual rosin poured hot into barrels for domestic use or export. During the next three hundred years, with little change, this forest product industry prospered, first in the Carolinas, then Georgia and Florida to become a major U.S. industry. Production of gum was greatly accelerated and tree life protected when the Herty clay cups, introduced in early 1900s, replaced cut boxes.

From 1909 until 1923, Florida led the nation in pine gum production. In 1909, the peak year in the U.S.A. gum yielded 750,000 barrels of turpentine and 2.5 million barrels of rosin. The 1910 census listed 27,2ll men and 3l6 women, mostly blacks, working in the industry with 65 percent in Florida. Fairbanks, Florida was a turpentine still town with the Mize family operation processing ten 50-gallon barrels of crude gum at a time. This still required six crops of 10,000 faces (an area where streaks of bark are removed) and each crop covered 400 acres. As recently as 1951, 105 fire stills operated around Gainesville. The Mize family operated the Fairbanks still until 1950. Many of the buildings (the cooper's shed, machine shop and worker homes) still stand. Ellis Mize (1882-1967) donated land with a lake bearing his name to the University of Florida's forestry education program. In 1948, they deeded this private cemetery on that property to the Fairbanks Baptist Church. Because of his love for the pine tree industry, Mize had his granite tombstone carved to resemble a "working face" pine tree. This marker is dedicated to all who toiled to provide an income for families and communities and resinous products worldwide.

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