Abbey buys Briggs Farm land for $1.5 million


PORTSMOUTH — Portsmouth Abbey School has purchased the last piece of the former Briggs dairy farm where Cory's Lane meets West Main Road.

The purchase of the 20-plus acres for $1.5 million means that the school has now protected the land on both sides of the east end of Cory's Lane, the road that leads to the private school's entryway.

This most recent transaction involves the land and old farmhouse on the south side of Cory's land at West Main Road. Several years ago, the school bought the land on the north side of that same intersection, also from the Briggs family. A dilapidated dairy barn there has since been torn down.

"We have no plans for the land for the time being other than to clean it up a bit, secure the farmhouse and have it remain in agricultural use," said the Abbey School's Brother Joseph.

"So hurrah that we have this important land … it will be a farm for the foreseeable future."

The property runs from Cory's Lane south to King's Grant and east to West Main Road. Among the reasons that it was important to the school was that much of it is zoned light industrial.

"Its protection is good for us and good for the neighborhood, we think," Brother Joseph said.

The purchase may also provide the school added security as the town and state consider a possible realignment of the three-way West Main Road/Cory'sLane/Hedly Street junction. One option under discussion is moving the Cory's Lane entrance south so that one traffic signal could serve all three roads, thus eliminating one of the two sets of lights that now sit just over 100 yards apart.

The school has already done some minor cleanup work there and boarded up windows on the old farmhouse. Brother Joseph said the school also doesn't know yet what will become of the farmhouse.  He added that there was once a good barn on that side of Cory's Lane too but that it burned down years ago.

The Briggs family once ran Fairholm Dairy Farm on both sides of West Main Road in that area, owning the lots on either side of Cory's Lane as well as part of the hillside across West Main south of Hedly Street.

Portsmouth historian Jim Garman lived in that area and said he recalls the farm when it was a busy place.

"I remember the Briggs boys bringing their cows down from pasture up on the hill (behind the present-day  transfer station on Hedly Street). They'd stop traffic and herd those cows right across West Main Road."

A Briggs family friend said that dairy operations stopped in the 1970s and that most of the family has since moved to upstate New York where they continue to do farming.

He said they are "great people, ran an outstanding farm here." ... Theirs was a way of life "that is disappearing here … These were people who could do anything, worked hard and were successful."

Since the Briggs moved north, some of the land has been leased to other farmers, Louis Escobar among them, who've grown there corn for to feed their livestock.

Mr. Garman said town records show that this was a farm going way back.

Old maps identify it was the Cory Farm, owned by Samuel Cory.

In 1895 it was purchased by Job Soule and then in 1921 by WH and AP Soule.

Mervin and Marguerite Briggs bought the property in 1925, transferring it to Fred Briggs et al in 1965. In 1974 it went to Winifred Briggs and, in 1977, to Richard and Fred Briggs.

Mr. Garman said tax records indicate that the farmhouse was built in 1880.

The Abbey now owns about 500 acres of land, some 300 of which are controlled by Carnegie Abbey for its golf course through a 99-year lease. Those holdings include most of the land from West Main Road to the bay between Cory's Lane and Willow Lane.



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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.