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Bee Ridge Turpentine Camp

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Ann A. Shank, former County Historian
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - Bee Ridge Turpentine Camp photo

Before becoming a sample of Sarasota's commercial growth, congested highways and abandoned railways, the intersection of Clark Road, McIntosh Road and the Seaboard Airline Railway was the site of one of this area's early industries. Now largely forgotten, the Bee Ridge Turpentine Camp was part of an industry that moved southward from Georgia through Florida during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Gum resin was harvested from Florida's pine forests and distilled into turpentine. The rosin residue was also of commercial value.

In the late 1930s, Berryman Thomas "B.T." Longino Sr., and Luther Franklin "Luke" Grubbs opened a turpentine camp in the Bee Ridge area. Turpentining was labor intensive and the workers almost exclusively black. They lived at the camp, shopped at the camp commissary and were under the nearly absolute authority of the operation's foreman, the ‘woodsrider'.

The number of trees "boxed" determined a worker's wages. To "box" a tree, a worker made a v-shaped cut in the tree, from which the gum would flow into a cup or a "box" cut into the base of the tree. Periodically a worker collected the accumulated gum in barrels and took it to the still for processing. There the "stiller" heated the gum in a large cooker and, when the sound was right, poured off the turpentine, leaving a residue of rosin. One and half barrels of turpentine and seven barrels of rosin were the yield from nine barrels of gum.

In this circa 1947 photo from the collection of Louie F. Grubbs, the view is toward the north. Counter-clockwise from the lower left are the still, a supply of wooden barrels made in the adjacent cooper shed, the home of woodsrider LW. Myers, garage, commissary, and the home of another woodsrider, possibly. Albert Jones. A short distance to the west, the Mount Moriah Baptist Church was school and social center as well as church. Charlie Pinkey's juke joint on Pinkney Avenue was available to transport residents to Sarasota for a Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon break from camp life.

When the camp closed in 1952, it marked the end of an era. The market for turpentine was weak and the supply of pine trees small. Many of the residents moved to Pinkney Avenue or Newtown, and some of the families are still in Sarasota.

The Sarasota County Historical Commission erected a historical marker for the Bee Ridge Turpentine Camp in 1994.

Special Thanks to Ann A. Shank, Sarasota County History Center for her research and time devoted to writing this article.

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