Brick company pioneer Bickerstaff dies at age 96

Family sold Bickerstaff Clay Products to Boral of Australia in 1995

newsroom@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 21, 2014 

Richard H. Bickerstaff Sr., who led his family-owned brick manufacturing company until its sale to an Australian firm in 1995, died Thursday at age 96.

Bickerstaff Clay Products was founded in Russell County, Alabama, in 1885 and reportedly was the fifth-largest clay brick maker when the company was purchased by Sydney, Australia-based materials supply firm Boral Ltd. The price tag was more than $100 million. Bickerstaff was chairman at the time, but remained an adviser to Boral.

But the Brickyard, Ala., native also had a major presence in the Columbus corporate world, having served on the boards of Columbus Bank and Trust, Synovus Financial Corp., and TSYS, a global credit-card processor.

He also served as chairman of the Brick Institute of America and operated Broken Arrow Land Co. with his son Richard H. Bickerstaff Jr.

A history of the company on the Boral website says Bickerstaff Clay Products came about when brothers James and William Bickerstaff purchased property on what is now Brickyard Road in Phenix City from the Abercrombie family. The land had been obtained by the U.S. government in 1832 through a “treaty” with the Creek Indians, with the tribe being moved west and the Abercrombies starting a cotton plantation on the site, which included a small “brickworks.”

The Bickerstaffs quickly turned their focus to brick manufacturing, with their families being born and raised on the land for decades, including the Great Depression. Improvements through the years led the company to start a subsidiary that made forklift truck attachments to move bricks without pallets, with the equipment being sold to other brick companies globally.

Bickerstaff was born Feb. 14, 1918, to Frank Jeter Bickerstaff and Bessie Bradford Bickerstaff, one of three sons of the couple. He lost his wife, Margaret Flournoy Bickerstaff, in 1998.

The retired businessman in 2009 led an eight-person oversight committee on the $14.3 million renovation of First Presbyterian Church in Columbus.

It’s at the church that a memorial service will be held 11 a.m. Saturday, with a private burial taking place at the family’s Broken Arrow Farm in Russell County.

The family asks that memorial contributions be made to First Presbyterian Church, the Russell County Historical Society for Fort Mitchell, Columbus Hospice or The Salvation Army.

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