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April 27, 2014

Bee Investigator: How did Modesto’s Briggsmore Avenue get its name?

A reader wants to know if Briggsmore Avenue was named for her uncle and aunt with the last name Briggs. Indeed, this is one family story that is true.

Get out your rearview mirror; we’re taking a look back again today.

Elaine Ixcot of Modesto was inspired by the columns a few weeks back regarding the history of the Norwegian Avenue name. (We never found the answer.)

“My Uncle Russell and Aunt Rose Briggs lived on the corner of what is now McHenry and Briggsmore avenues,” she said. “Uncle Russell was not only a farmer, but also an inventor. They had a big farm on the property, and I remember going down a dusty lane beside the canal to visit them. McHenry was only two lanes wide back then.

“I have always been told that Briggsmore was named after them. Is this true?”

Janet Lancaster, a volunteer researcher for Modesto’s McHenry Museum, said H. Russell Briggs wrote this for a 1994 museum publication:

“In 1903, granddad (James R. Briggs, 1827-1906) purchased 133 acres of farmland as an investment for $25 an acre. The parcel was located along the west side of McHenry, just north of an irrigation canal about 2 miles from Modesto. A road was later built along the drainage ditch. Eventually the names of the two adjacent ranching families there, Briggs and the Whitmores, were combined to name the road Briggsmore Ave.”

Janet added this note: “The Whitmores would be Charles W. and May Viola Whitmore. Charles W. Whitmore was born in Weaverville in 1858, and May Viola in Idaho.”

I checked with Matt Machado, Stanislaus County’s public works director. He had been helpful in providing maps in response to the earlier question regarding Norwegian Avenue. But this time, his staff couldn’t find much in their files.

We know that in 1864, the state granted the land to Charlotte and Oliver Cutts and to Timothy Paige.

Larry Fontana, the county’s deputy surveyor, found a 1955 assessor’s map. By that time, Briggsmore Avenue was named between McHenry and Highway 99 (the street name was not on the map east of McHenry Avenue) and the Briggs family still owned a large chunk of land at the corner of McHenry and Bowen, although they had sold off some lots bordering Briggsmore.

According to the map, it was an era when much land was being converted from farmland to subdivisions. That makes sense, coming during the post-World War II baby boom. McHenry Village also is on the map.

The McHenrys were the Briggs’ neighbors, living due east across the street that bore their name. But there’s no sign of the Whitmores by then, although we know they were in that area.

“The land for the park at College Avenue and Bowen, Whitmore Park, was provided by Mrs. Whitmore and her son, Chester, when they sold part of the family farm for subdivision purposes,” Janet said.

Fontana said his department didn’t have an older plat map to show that, although “the Whitmores at one time owned 9,000 acres in the county, much of it between Ceres and Hughson.”

At any rate, we know Elaine is right – that dusty lane next to the irrigation canal became Briggsmore Avenue and was named for her relatives.

Too bad it’s not still possible to buy land at $25 an acre, eh?

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