Arlington’s Turpentine Still

Written By Hartley Steeves
Originally published in the History Corner of the OAI Newsletter

Among Arlington’s commerce establishments was the Turpentine Still. Located on the bluff behind the Olson and Son Shipyard, this by the way came after the Turpentine Still.

The attraction for me was the worker who assembled the barrels. This was accomplished using precut barrel staves, barrel hoops that could have been made on sight but had to be made to fit. The barrelhead and bottom, or ends were probably made off site. These barrels were for containing the rosin, which was the byproduct of the distilling process. Another product was dross, the stuff discarded after the distilling process was completed. However this also had a use. It consisted of chips of wood and other debris from the boiler, saturated with rosin, and hardened in the drying process. Just right for starting fires in the kitchen stove. And several families sent their kids to this dump to retrieve this kindling.

But the attraction at the still for me was the worker assembling the barrels. The staves were placed in a stand that supported them in an upright position and nested in the barrel end. A rig was used to squeeze the staves together and the hoop was placed over the barrel. This is where the worker displayed his talent. He placed the hoop over the barrel and with a chisel type tool held in his hand and a mallet in the other he would tap the edge of barrel hoop and force it down the sides of the barrel until the staves came together, and tightly. He would turn the barrel over end for end and place the hoops over that end of the barrel and then with great gusto he would tap the barrel hoops and play away like he was at the drums. He would tilt the tool one way and then the other as if to add tune to the tapping. I really believe this tool motion did make a tune and the motion of his hand was fast and I was amazed he didn’t smash his knuckles. He was faster than two drummers vying for attention. The barrels were to contain the rosin which was shipped from the Jacksonville port, called Commodores Point, located at the bend of the St. Johns River across from Arlington. The firm’s name was Turpentine Rosin Factors. At one time it was purported to be the largest exporter of rosin in the world.

A side note would be: Arlington at that time had several little houses scattered around the community that housed the turpentine workers, cheaply built with galvanized roofs and a fireplace at one end. But even today there’re people in our society that could call these houses home.


The still dominated the “hill,” however; another activity was carried out, on that hill. I remember a scene for a movie would be made among the oak trees that dominated the hill. Indians were up in the oak trees; some very high in the tree and some on the lower limbs. I now suppose it was for the Eagle Film Studios. It was a battle scene of Indians being shot out of trees. I arrived on the hill as the scene was being shot; the dexterity of the actor Indians falling out of those trees amazed my young mind. The Indians were poised all through the tree’s limbs like birds. They were high in the trees lying on the tree limbs. I don’t remember if they were shot at with arrows or guns. In those days, sound was not recorded. All I remember was the Indians falling and they kept falling. The actor part of the fall, I noticed.. As they fell through the tree they would slow their fall by touching their foot on a limb or grabbing a limb with their hand and letting go very quickly so it wouldn’t be noticed when shown on the silver screen. When they would hit the ground they were oh so still. And with a voice command they were up on their feet and back up the tree again to take the scene again.

Right away, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up; a film actor; preferably a stunt actor. That is probably why I only remember that part of a scene that consumed most of the morning in taking.

Arlington had another product; it furnished the railroads. And that was crossties. Having an abundance of long leaf pine trees throughout the Arlington, Chaseville, Gilmore, Cosmo and Fulton area the source for the crossties was easily accessible with horse and wagon.

Men with their horse and wagons plus broad axes, cross cut saws and lunch pales would cross the river from Jacksonville every morning and head for the woods.. There was a period when the ferry crew would run an extra trip around four in the morning to accommodate the woodsmen, enabling them to work a longer day. Carving a crosstie with a broad ax is quite a talent and as I understand it they got a dollar and a quarter for each cross tie. A wagon would be carrying seven or eight ties. (This is what I remember).

[Ed Note: The Turpentine Still was located on the river side of the River Bluff Road, just south of the boat ramp, approximately 360 feet south. Going south from the Arlington Road and River Bluff Road intersection, go over the first hump and the turpentine still would be on your right (stop at approximately: 30.332647, -81.6105). Map.]