Portal Turpentine Festival

A turpentine still.
A turpentine still.

Did your grandmother have a home remedy for aches, pains or a sore throat? Chances are it included turpentine. The same stuff grandpa used to clean paintbrushes around the house.

In Portal, in Bulloch County, we found they're celebrating the Southern staple and the traditions.

Bobby Newton remembers when turpentine kept families fed and clothed in hard times. It's a way of life remembered at the Portal Turpentine Festival.

"It's a dying art," Newton said. "There's not many [stills]." He showed us one of the few stills in Georgia that still operates. This weekend, they'll show off what was once the lifeblood of South Georgia.

Not only was turpentining an industry, it was an art form. The pine tar would cook in a kettle and the steam would come up, and they'd channel it into a copper tube called the worm. What came out the bottom was a liquid gold harder to make than moonshine.

People used it for everything from a wood sealant to medicine, and some still do.

"I took some the other day," said Thomas Anderson of the Portal Heritage Society. "I had a cough in my throat. I took a spoon of sugar, three, four drops of turpentine and it cleared it up."

Organizers of the festival hope visitors learn about local history and have fun too.

The money they raise benefits hospice and the Portal Heritage Society. The festival kicks off Saturday morning at 10am with a parade. Portal's on Highway 80, north of Statesboro.

Reported by: Dal Cannady, dcannady@wtoc.com