Walton County History Fair - 2/25/06
Before the tourists, the condos and the beach chairs, South Walton was littered with turpentine camps. It was the area’s major industry in the 1910s.
To help people see what it was like to live and work in Walton County pretourist days, a Walton County History Fair is being held at Walton Fairgrounds Feb. 25 in DeFuniak Springs.
There will be approximately 90 participants at the fair offering food, entertainment, speaking, and booths or tables with artifacts to show.
Outside will be antique farm equipment and cars.
Inside, from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., will be continuous entertainment onstage beginning with the Beeboppers — a group of 4th and 5th graders from West DeFuniak Elementary, singing patriotic songs.
Susan Petro and Christine Burroughs will perform a skit entitled Five Aprons, to depict the lifestyle of the early settlers.
The Pelican Pickers will perform and a group of shape note singers. Shape note singers only use four notes and sing back and forth to each other, explained organizer Mary Lind Devlin.
Lance Anderson will talk about life in the north end of Walton County, with excerpts taken from his book, “A Mess of Greens.”
People who will discuss subjects such as early churches and moonshine stills will man booths and tables.
South Walton historian Chick Huettel will have a table and another local historian, Brenda Rees, will speak about her “Shaping Florida” presentation.
There will be a Civil War round table group with Dan Wallace, a Yankee turned Southerner, who has written a book based on the Civil War.
And Van Ness Butler and Buz Livingston will talk about turpentining in South Walton.
Turpentine was used to clean wounds and for other medicinal purposes before there were antibiotics.
Livingston is the son of a Georgia turpentiner and as a boy, earned money during the summer by marking trees. He remembers his grandfather and father turpentining until he was 10 or 12 years old.
While Livingston is one generation removed from the turpentine industry, he notes that in South Walton, in the span of just three or four generations, turpentining doesn’t exist any more.
“The world built a better mousetrap, something more economically productive,” he surmises.
Livingston said the turpentine industry died off in South Walton more quickly than in southern Georgia due to several reasons.
“It was a bulky product to ship. There were no rails here. Rails made transportation easier.
“Prohibition is another reason it died off here in South Walton. It’s not a big jump from turpentine to moonshine. And if you could get sugar you could get whiskey,” he said.
More reasons are due to the rise of the modern petro-chemical industry and St. Joe buying Panhandle land.
“St. Joe had a better product. Two by-products of turpentine, talloil and wood turpentine, competed against rosin and spirits of turpentine. When St. Joe bought the land, they got it for free because they were paper makers. I don’t think anyone makes it in the U.S. any more. It now comes from oversees,” said Livingston.
“It was a unique industry. The workers were paid in script, not cash. Script was only redeemable at the company store. This was called peonage and you could end up owing money to the company you worked for. It was an economic form of slavery and very labor intensive,” he continued.
Crews harvested the sap when it began running in the spring by putting buckets on trees until the first frost. In winter, straw was raked away from the trees and controlled burns were conducted.
Each tree could be worked for about four years.
Livingston said cups were found still on the trees when developers began coming in to South Walton.
The Walton History Fair was begun in 1984, is sponsored by the Walton County Heritage Association and was formerly held in the fall. It was changed this year to coincide with Chautauqua Assembly.
Admission is $1. The fairgrounds are located on Highway 83N.
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