Catface Turpentine Festival, Portal

Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Bad weather didn’t keep people away from this year’s 34th Annual Catface Turpentine Festival in Portal, which bills itself “The Turpentine City”. The recently named Bobby Ronald Newton Turpentine Museum (background, above) is the focal point of the festival. In 1982, Denver Holllingsworth and the Portal Heritage Society suggested restoring the old Carter still and with enthusiastic community involvement, the old boiler was finally relit. The Carter still is one of only three remaining in Georgia. The two other stills are located in Tifton and Walthourville.

Roger Branch in the Bobby Ronald Newton Turpentine Museum Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

As he’s been doing since the festival’s inception, Mr. Roger Branch is on hand each year and eager to tell you anything you might want to know about the history of what was once South Georgia’s biggest industry. Roger is the retired chairman of the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at Georgia Southern University and has always been interested in preserving historical and cultural aspects of life in South Georgia. I like to think of him as the “Ambassador of Turpentine”. The calendars behind him were produced for many years by the American Turpentine Farmers Association (ATFA) in Valdosta and feature annual winners of the Miss Gum Spirits of Turpentine contests. The ATFA disbanded in the early 1990s, as commercial production of turpentine disappeared from the scene.

Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA Carter & Son Marker Museum Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

There are several of these old markers on the walls of the Turpentine Museum, from the Carter & Son turpentine operations. F. N. Carter, Sr., put Portal on the map as one of Georgia’s centers of the naval stores industry in the 1930s and along with his son E. C. Carter maintained this vital part of the area’s economy until the early 1960s.

Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA Bottling Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

David King, from the Georgia Museum of Agriculture at Tifton’s Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC), is an expert on the distillation of turpentine and runs the old Carter still at the festival.

Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA Barrel Distillation Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

The museum’s namesake, Bobby Ronald Newton, was a longtime volunteer at the festival and was instrumental in preserving the area’s turpentine history.

Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA Bobby Ronald Newton Turpentine Museum Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

The little building beside the still is filled with all sorts of memorabilia, from signs and calendars to tools and even catfaces themselves. To those who don’t already know, the name catface was given to the slashes cut into pines to gather sap. They’re said to resemble cat’s whiskers.

Bobby Ronald Newton Turpentine Museum Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Also on display are Herty cups (below left) and other early innovations for the collection of sap.

Catface Turpentine Festival Portal Georgia Bobby Ronald Newton Turpentine Museum Herty Cup Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Perhaps the most popular item, though, is the hardened gum rosin itself, which has a gem-like appearance.

Portal GA Catface Turpentine Festival Gum Rosin Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

A variety of vendors and activities for the kids insure a good day at the festival.

Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA People Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Come and learn about this vital part of South Georgia’s history, and have fun in the process.

Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA Crowds Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

You might even try some Rosin Potatoes.

Catface Turpentine Festival Portal GA Rosin Baked Potatoes Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

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2 Comments

Filed under --BULLOCH COUNTY GA--, Portal GA

2 responses to “Catface Turpentine Festival, Portal

  1. Interesting write up and photos, Brian. I only knew about traditional turpentine because of my wood carving instructor. He’s talked about it’s many uses in finishes for carvings. Usually combined with bees wax to make a spreadable wax for finished carving.

    I got mine from a place in Georgia. Diamond G or something like that. It’s nice to work with the traditional stuff that doesn’t have all the chemical additives that are in the stuff you normally see on the hardware store shelves.

  2. neil branch

    My Uncle John Thomas Branch had a turpentine still in the Fl panhandle.My Great Grandfather was James Thomas Branch and he was one of the founders of Tifton. Roger you are most likely one of my cousins.

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