Early days of Orange Beach connected to turpentine industry

August 2, 2018
Oxen pull a wagon full of sap to a Turpentine still

By Alex Wilkerson for City of Orange Beach

What is turpentine and how did the industry influence Orange Beach’s growth? Turpentine is a fluid that is distilled from the sap of living trees. A popular tree used for the production of turpentine is the pine tree.

In the 1800s, turpentine had many different uses. The liquid as well as rosin, the solid material left behind after distillation, were used:

  • To burn in oil lamps.
  • To fill holes in wooden ships.
  • To coat rigging on boats.
  • As a solvent.
  • To treat burns, stings and eveh toothaches.

Turpentine is collected by removing bark at the base of pine trees. Once these cuts were made, sap would collect where the bark was removed. This sap was then converted to turpentine through steam distillation in a copper mill. The turpentine industry used v-shaped cuts which were often referred to as “cat faces.” The cuts made by this industry can still be seen on pine trees in Orange Beach to this day.

In the 1800s, Baldwin County relied heavily on the turpentine industry due to the area’s large pine tree forests.

James C. Callaway, who was one of the first settlers in Orange Beach, was a turpentine chipper while operating his freight schooner business. Callaway traded his turpentine throughout the Gulf of Mexico aboard his schooners.

Without the turpentine industry, Orange Beach would not have grown to be what it is today. Many of the tools used by early settlers can be found on display at the Orange Beach Indian & Sea Museum.

The museum is at 25850 John M. Snook Drive, next to City Hall, and is open Tuesday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 251-981-8545 or visit www.orangebeachal.gov/facilities/indian-sea-museum/about.