History & Culture

Turpentine and Timber

1930s USFS truckPrior to the formation of the National Forests in the southeastern United States, many local communities were dependent upon turpentine and timber industries from about 1890 to 1920.

After 1915, part-time employment in these industries began to decline and by the 1930s, this type of employment became scarce.  This continued until the end of WWII and was a direct effect of poor management of timber resources.

Usually, the pines were first tapped for turpentine products and when they were "worked out" (meaning so much of the sap had been removed that tree breakage and disease began) the trees were cut for timber.

These two operations were carried out by different companies, but sometimes the same operator did both. The forests were viewed as a resource to be used as hard and as quickly as possible according to the flux of the market. When timber prices went up, every tree with market value was cut.

The resulting deforestation and other poor management practices such as over-burning areas, deep-chipping for turpentine, tapping trees that were too small and ranging stock in areas where seedlings were trying to grow, all combined to wipe out the very foundation of local economies.

Market value of much of the property dropped so low that property taxes became higher than the actual monetary value of the land. Due to laxity of earlier tax laws, property taxes were not paid and local economies suffered from loss of revenue. These conditions helped lead to the formation of National Forests throughout the southeastern United States. The Ocala National Forest was proclaimed in 1908, and creation of the National Forests in Florida continued through 1936.