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The History of the Briggs-Boesch Farm

This farm history comes from a July 18, 2003 press release by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission (RIHPHC). For more information about the work of RIHPCP, visit their website: www.rihphc.state.ri.us.

 

Still Thriving: Briggs Farm Listed on National Register

East Greenwich’s Richard Briggs Farm, also known as Boesch Farm, has received federal recognition for its contributions to the history of agriculture and architecture. Frederick C. Williamson, Chairman of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, announced that the National Park Service has added Briggs farm at 830 South Road to the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register is the federal government’s official list of properties throughout the United States whose historical and architectural significance makes them worthy of preservation. The Richard Briggs Farm is one of Rhode Island’s most long-lived family farms. This unusual property has endured even as much of the state’s rural landscape has given way to urban, industrial, and suburban development.

Briggs Farm is located on South Road in the very Southern part of East Greenwich, abutting its border with North Kingstown. The 72-acre property contains buildings, structures, and landscape elements ranging in date from the early 18th to mid 20th century. They include a farmhouse and bank farm (both ca. 1735-1755 with later additions and alterations), and outbuilding (probably an icehouse built ca. 1860), dry-laid stone walls (18th and 19th centuries), the Briggs family burying ground (dating to ca. 1715), and at least two wells of unknown age.

The history of the farm dates back to 1672, when Englishman John Briggs (?-1708) settled in what is now North Kingstown. He made two substantial real estate investments that year: a large tract of land in present-day western East Greenwich purchased with five partners, and a 57-acre parcel directly to its south. Thanks to a series of gifts, trades, and presumably an inheritance, Briggs’s son Richard (1675-1733) held a 144-acre farm extending for nearly a mile along the south side of South Road by 1716.

Although the Briggs family was present on the land by the early 1700s, the existing farmhouse does not date to this period. Documentary research and structural examination of the house by architectural historian Kathryn Cavanaugh suggest that the house was likely built between 1740 and 1760 for Richard’s son John Briggs II sometime after Richard’s death in 1733. Between 1759 and 1851, various portions of the farm changed hands within the family, and presumably some of the extant stone walls date from this period, erected to mark new boundaries.

As Briggs Farm evolved, so did East Greenwich’s economy. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, agricultural products from East Greenwich farms were shipped from the town port. By 1837, the new railroad made external markets available to local farmers. The 1850 agricultural census of East Greenwich indicates that he 180-acre farm yielded both crops and dairy products, including corn, potatoes, hay, butter, and wool as well as livestock including horses, cattle oxen, sheep, and pigs.

In 1853, the Briggs family divided the property and sold a 90-acre farm (including the present-day property) to Paul Hendricks. The farm changed hands seven more times between 1887 and 1954, when it was sold to Donald and Teresa Boesch of Baltimore. The Boesch family maintained some limited agricultural production in corn, hay, and a Christmas tree farm, and also kept some sheep and cows on the property.

Between the late 19th century and the mid-20th century, the number of active farms in Rhode Island declined, while the average size of farms increased. Small farms like the Briggs Farm were unable to compete with larger, more mechanized properties. Meanwhile, the value of farm real estate more than doubled between 1880 and 1950, reflecting the market for suburban development. Despite the trends, the Briggs Farm survived. Its legacy was ensured in 2001, when the East Greenwich Municipal Land Trust purchased the property from the Boesch family with the intention of preserving the property as open space.

According to Edward F. Sanderson, executive director of the RI Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, “Briggs Farm is a time capsule of Rhode Island tow and a-half centuries ago, and it remains important today as part of the East Greenwich greenway system that preserves the town’s historic rural and scenic character.”

In addition to honoring a property for its contribution to local, state, or national history, listing on the National Register provides additional benefits. It results in special consideration during the planning for federal or federally assisted projects and makes properties eligible for federal and Rhode Island tax benefits for historic rehabilitation projects. Owners of private property listed in the National Register are free to maintain, manage, or dispose of their property as they choose. As the state office for historic preservation, the Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission is the state agency responsible for reviewing and submitting Rhode Island nominations to the National Register.