Tung Oil and the Conservation Heart of Money Hill
A strange and romantic product, for centuries tung oil was a secret of the Chinese and produced mostly in the region of the Yangtze River where strangers were forbidden to enter. Its use in Asia dates back at least to the Tang Dynasty, A.D. 618-907. It was mentioned in the writings of Marco Polo, who in the 13th century took word of it back to Venice from China during the rule of Kubla Khan.
Tung Oil always had a multitude of uses but it was not until the 20th century that export shipments of it became China’s major source of revenue. The United States government was a good customer, using the oil in paints that coated the hulls of battleships and for other military and marine products. When the revolution in China cut off exports to the United States they needed to find alternatives.
Though China had long maintained the strictest control on the production of tung oil the revolution broke that monopoly. At considerable risk of life, a small quantity of seed was smuggled from a tung grove near the Yangtze River by American spies and brought to this country.
The Department of Agriculture determined that tung trees could be grown successfully in the United States only within a strip of land about 50 miles wide, extending from northern Florida to eastern Texas. It happened that land in Washington and St. Tammany Parishes lay within that area, nicknamed the Tung Belt. The Goodyear family organized Bogalusa Tung Oil, Inc. in 1935 to begin operations on the Money Hill parcel they had acquired from the Great Southern Lumber Company as the timber operation wound down. The 12,500-acre area, nine miles long and varying from two to three miles wide, bore the name “Money Hill.”
Except for Highway 21, which divided the property into almost equal sections, the land was contiguous. The rolling terrain and soil of half the area were ideal for growing tung trees and the Goodyear family turned their attention to the new enterprise. The remaining acreage, having been logged several years before, either had an excellent second growth of longleaf pine or was suitable for grazing cattle.
The Money Hill land to be farmed for the new project was cleared of pine stumps and cultivated. Tung seedlings, grown in nurseries from the smuggled seeds, were planted in contours to prevent erosion. To ease the struggling economy of the time, the U.S. government sponsored many emergency work projects, among them the Civilian Conservation Corps. One of the CCC camps was established at Money Hill, a boon for the early days of the project. The 125 young men in the camp constructed 35 miles of plantation roads, bridges and telephone lines, making the vast expanse of orchards more accessible for maintenance and harvesting.
The camp was located just off what is now Money Hill parkway across from the location of the Rob Noel Golf Academy. The CCC workers also planted a vast live oak grove beside the camp which makes a beautiful statement to the property today.