For a brief period in the 1800s, Horry County ranked as one of the top producers of turpentine in the United States.
And, when rosin taken from trees to make turpentine began to run out, bold entrepreneurs like Henry Buck again turned to heavily forested Horry County to become very rich.
Writing in the Vol. 18, No 4 edition of the Independent Republic Quarterly, the late Charles Joyner, Ph.D traced the history of the timber and naval stores industry in the Wacccamaw Region.
According to Joyner, South Carolina accounted for only a tiny fraction of Southern naval stores produced in the U.S in 1840.
In 1848, that began to change when Daniel W. Jordan, a North Carolinian who had failed as a cotton farmer, purchased nearly 1,000 acres of pinelands near Littler River for $1,200.
He leased the services of several hundred slaves to harvest rosin to produce tar and pitch. He also distilled his own turpentine.
Naval supplies were used to caulk sailing vessels but uses were also found for medicine, lubricating oil, rubber solvent, thinner, cleaner and preservatives.
Joyner found that by 1850 there were 12 turpentine distilleries in the Horry District.
During the Civil War blockade runners from Murrells Inlet and Little River carried valuable cargoes of Horry turpentine to other parts of the South.
The turpentine industry peaked in 1880 when a third of the entire Southern naval stores output came from Horry County More than 366,000 barrels of spirts and rosin were exported through the port of harleston.
Then the bottom fell out.
According to Joyner, Horry’s pine forests had been ruthlessly ravaged and production shifted to Georgia and Florida.
Fortunately for a young man from Maine, the timber industry continued to thrive.
In the 1820s, Henry Buck purchased property on the Waccamaw River and erected a small saw mill. He built a log shanty for himself and a few hired black men.
A New Yorker who visited Buck in 1860 wrote, “He attacked with his own hands the mighty pine..From such beginnings, he had risen to be one of the wealthiest land and slave owners of his district with vessels trading to nearly every quarter of the globe.”
Joyner wrote that Buck’s mills were producing three million board feet of lumber each year. In 1871, Buck retired, passing his interests on to his oldest son, William L. Buck.
He entered into a partnership with C.F. Buck, B. L. Beaty, and James Elkanah Dusenbury to manufacture and ship yellow and hard pine from Bucksville.
In August, 1874, the Bucksville Mill burned. Two schooners tied up at the mill’s wharf escaped.
After the Partnership dissolved, Buck rebuilt the mill and carried on alone.
The famous Burroughs and Collins Co. also traces its roots to the turpentine industry and to timber.
The same year that the Buck sawmill burned, Franklin G. Burroughs and Benjamin G.Collins built a sawmill at Snow Hill in Conway.
By the next year, it was producing 10,000 feet of lumber per day.
But their real genius came through land acquisition.
Joyner wrote that the two men began buying up the land of debt-ridden landowners after the turpentine industry dried up.
“Typically turpentine operators had not purchased land, but had simply leased turpentine rights and have moved on when the trees were exhausted,” wrote Joyner. “It cost Burroughs and Collins little more to buy the land east of the Waccamaw than to lease it so they acquired enormous tracts of coastal property.”
Who would have imagined at the time that the thousands of acres of virgin forests would one day be replaced by sprawling subdivisions?