The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

June 8, 2009

Frank Royster and his company


In 1870 Frank Sheppard Royster moved to Tarboro from his home in Granville County and began to clerk in the store of O. C. Farrar.

Royster had been born on a plantation and grew up around farming. His father, Capt. Marcus Royster was not only a farmer, but also operated a mercantile store and served as a justice for Granville County. After attending the Oak Hill and Horner Academies Frank worked in his father’s general store.

Over the next few years Royster became partners with Farrar and later with C.C.Lanier of Tarboro. The brokerage firm of Lanier and Royster was quite successful and led to forming a partnership with Edmund Strudwick of Hillsborough. Soon the firm of Royster and Co. had offices in Tarboro and Norfolk and marketed cotton.

After Lanier’s death in 1883 Royster eventually sold his interest to Studwick in Norfolk and concentrated on a new venture in Tarboro. Royster’s experience in agriculture and his work in the stores led to become an expert in fertilizer. In 1885 Royster opened a factory to process fertilizer and partnered with Charles F. Burroughs. The Tarboro factory was near the river and the railroad tracks. In the first year of operation, Royster’s Guano Co. processed over 250 tons of fertilizer that provided nutrients to the worn out farm land. This was the beginning of a business that is still operating over 120 years later, although under a different name.

The company continued to grow and developed a major market across the South causing Royster to moved his company to Norfolk in 1897 to take advantage of the shipping there. By 1900, F.S. Royster Guano Company was producing over 75,000 tons of fertilizer from its six plants including the ones in Tarboro and Norfolk, and two in South Carolina and two more in Georgia.

In a biographical sketch of outstanding businessmen in North Carolina written in 1906, Royster was described as man who “knows what is demanded by the farmers and he strives earnestly, intelligently , and honestly to meet their demand.” He was recognized for being competitive and providing “honest goods at fair prices.”

A report in the 1920s indicated that F.S. Royster established chemical labs as part of his company and was “one of the first to recognize the importance of scientific methods in the manufacture of plant food.”

Royster married Mary Stamps of Milton in 1874. They eventually had four children to live to adulthood, two sons Frank and William, and two daughters, Mary and Fannie. William Stamps, the eldest son worked in his father’s company as the treasurer and eventually opened an insurance company here in Tarboro. The family built a beautiful Victorian home on Main Street. in 1885 and were members of the Presbyterian church in Tarboro.

In 1897 Royster and part of his family moved to Norfolk and the Bryan family acquired the home on Main Street. In 1912 Royster constructed a 13-story office building known as the Royster Building in Norfolk to serve as corporate headquarters. Royster died in Norfolk on March 1, 1928. His company continued operations and in the 1980s merged with W.S. Clark Co. another local agribusiness and the CEO became Francis Jenkins of Tarboro.

The new firm established its headquarters in the former W.S. Clark department store building on the 400 block of Main Street. In the 1990s, Royster-Clark merged with other companies in the midwest and relocated the headquarters.

By the turn of the 21st century Royster Clark continued to make fertilizer and sell seeds. The company operated 250 retail outlets and 75 distribution terminals and warehouses. According to financial reports, Agrium acquired Royster-Clark in 2006 for $515 million. In January of this year the firm merged with other firms and became known as Crop Production Services.

Monika Fleming, chairwoman of the English/Humanities Department and Historic Preservation Program Director at Edgecombe Community College, is an Edgecombe County historian. Look for her reports each month on the Community page.