Bee Ridge Turpentine Camp
Markers: Sarasota History
Across the pine flatwoods of Florida, turpentine-camp workers were harvesting raw pine tree gum by the early 1900s. Berryman Thomas “B.T.” Longino, Sr. and Luke Grubbs opened the Bee Ridge turpentine camp in 1937 near Clark Road and the Seaboard Air Line Railway track. Longino had owned a turpentine camp since 1934 near a railroad siding called Sidell in eastern Sarasota County. Black turpentine workers collected gum from Osprey to Fruitville on company owned or leased land.
Many laborers had moved with Grubbs from Ashburn, Georgia to Bee Ridge. They were paid by the number of trees they “boxed” by cutting a V-shaped “cat face” which bled gum into a clay or tin pot nailed to the tree. Every few weeks, workers poured the gum into barrels carted into the woods by mule or horse-drawn wagon. At the still, the gum was heated in a 500 gallon copper kettle over a pine fatwood fire. Stillers Clyde Grubbs and John Lacey performed the highly skilled task of distilling the gum. Nine barrels of gum yielded 1 ½ barrels of turpentine and seven barrels of rosin residue. Most of the turpentine was sold to retailers from Ft. Myers to Tampa.
Rosin and surplus turpentine were shipped by rail to Jacksonville. Rosin was used to manufacture gunpowder, explosives, printer's ink, paint, soap, shoe polish and sizing for fabric. Graded and named by color, rosin's top grades were called “water white” and “window glass.” Lesser grades were named for women—Nancy, Kate or Mary—whose skin color correlated to the rosin color.
Albert Jones, a black woodsrider, supervised the Sidell and Bee Ridge camps. T. W. Myers, another black woodsrider, worked under Jones at the Bee Ridge camp. Woodsriders held nearly absolute power over the workers. The workers' frame camp houses had two to four rooms. A camp commissary stocked soap, salt and basic staples. The Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, just west of the camp, was church, school house and social center. On nearby Pinkney Avenue, Charlie Pinkney's juke joint was a favorite gathering spot. The camp truck delivered workers to and from Sarasota for shopping and recreation on weekends. When the camp closed in 1952, some workers moved their houses to Newtown in Sarasota or nearby Pinkney Avenue.
Dedicated in 1993 by the Sarasota County Historical Commission