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VAN WYCK – The once-booming Van Wyck brickyard got a new owner and new identity Tuesday, April 30, when Hickory Hills bought the Boral Bricks plant site in the 48-acre deal. The price was not disclosed.
Hickory Hills, a 17-year-old processing plant that sits across the railroad tracks from the old brickyard, is looking to expand its retail line of smoked beef and pork products, said owner Kyle Starnes, 44. The business, processing several thousand deer a season, is known by deer and big-game hunters across the Southeast.
“We are out of room and need our retail business to grow,” said Starnes, who wants to be the largest game-processing business in the country and expand the reach of his retail products to stores. “The only way to do that is more square footage. This will allow us to grow forever.”
The brickyard has few recognizable features. In the past years, Boral Bricks tore down much of the dilapidated structures, but the maintenance shop and the old Ashe Brick Co. office building remain. The factory that made bricks there for nearly 100 years is gone, and the property has been leveled and grass planted.
Ashe Brick Co. marked its start in the 1890s with a young William Newton Ashe. The business started in Rock Hill, operating out of a wagon. The company built the earliest of Winthrop College’s buildings, then many of the region’s cotton mills for years before setting up as Catawba Pressed Brick in 1909, on the banks of the Catawba River near what is now Resolute Forest Products.
Ashe moved his company to Van Wyck around 1926 to take advantage of the area’s clay deposits and bountiful woodlands to fire the old round kilns.
Ashe’s nephew, James Moore Sr., soon joined the business and his engineering skills helped carry the company through the better part of the 20th century with several new plants.
By the 1950s, the company built its first tunnel kiln, which produced brick 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Van Wyck bricks were shipped up and down the East Coast.
Business was good, and Ashe Brick attributed survival during the rough patches to its tradition in the community. Ashe’s great-nephews, Jim and Bob Moore, took over the family business.
The Van Wyck plant employees, many generational, considered one another family and the community revolved around the manufacturing of bricks.
The Moore family sold the plant in 1986 when the Australian company Boral was buying family-owned brick plants throughout the country.
Van Wyck native and Boral Bricks employee Tommy Broome is the third of three generations of brick employees. He is the sales manager of the Charlotte market, but could not disclose details of the Van Wyck site sale.
“It’s time to move on,” Broome said. “I’m glad to see someone buy it, and I’m even more excited that they are going to make something out of it.”
It broke his heart when the plant stopped making bricks.
Boral stopped production after the economic downturn of 2007, and decided to dismantle the factory in 2011 as a cost-saving move.
Betty George, the postmaster in Van Wyck for 28 years, likes to remember the brickyard when it was busy and booming.
“It was jobs for people,” she said. “When it shut down, it was very sad. It was like part of the community died.”
George is excited that Starnes, a lifelong Van Wyck resident, has purchased the property and there will again be activity there.
She was worried after hearing rumors that the site was going to be turned into a scrap yard.
“It was going to degrade the community,” she said. “Now I’m happy, knowing that it is going to a local person and knowing he cares about the community.”
About Hickory Hills
Hickory Hills, located at 1714 Steele Hill Road in Van Wyck, processes deer and other big game during hunting season and sells beef and pork products year round, including jerky, snack sticks and sausage with cheddar, jalapenos and habaneros. It does not add chemicals, additives or fats to its products.
Starnes and his father, Keith, a retired Springs Industries executive, started the business in 1995 in one room of the building that they have now outgrown, using old family recipes and experience from the family farm’s smokehouse.
For more information, visit www.hickoryhillssp.com.