For nearly 100 years around Oneonta, if the family name Briggs came up in conversation, it likely had something to do with either a building project or what the family was doing in the community.
Nathan H. Briggs and his wife, Hanna Conger Briggs, arrived in Oneonta in 1882. They were both natives of the region, he being born in Cherry Valley and she in West Laurens.
Oneonta was a growing village in the 1880s. As more people arrived to work on the D&H Railroad, houses were being built and the business district began to grow in a west-to-east path on Main Street. Nathan Briggs was in on the growth of many of these dwellings.
In his first two years after arriving, Briggs worked at his trade as a carpenter and then got into general building and contracting, first under partnerships with William Scott and then R. Wesley Miller. Their shop was found at the corner of Main and South Main streets, where today's city hall is located.
The latter partnership with Miller ended in 1902, when Briggs went into a partnership with his son, Roscoe C. Briggs, in a business called N.H. Briggs and Son. Their shop remained on site until 1907.
Talk began around that time for a federal building, a post office on the site, so Briggs moved to a new brick building on Hickory Street, still there today. That allowed for an expansion of the business with another building added later on Lewis Street.
The Briggs, while in the contracting business, obtained their lumber locally at first.
They milled the wood for their jobs with three portable ground mills they'd bring on site. They also had a woodworking plant, employing about 40. Window frames, doors, cupboards and porch poles were all made by hand.
Roscoe Briggs once estimated that about 200 houses were erected in Oneonta by the firm. When Nathan passed away in 1909, the company got out of contracting and moved into selling lumber and building supplies at its Lewis Street location.
Some of the last houses the Briggs built was the Frank Miller mansion at the corner of Main and Elm streets, now fronted by two retail shops, and Colliscroft, on state Route 28, Southside.
Roscoe Briggs expanded the business and by the late 1940s had additional lumber yards in Sharon Springs, Norwich, Afton, Cobleskill, Roxbury and Oxford. While this was going on, his son, Duncan S. Briggs, joined the business in 1930, after completing college.
Roscoe passed away in April 1971, and by 1980, Duncan was retiring and making arrangements for other companies to acquire their chain of stores.
All three generations of Briggs ran a very successful business. While the community was good to them, each of the Briggs men gave a lot in return.
Nathan Briggs served on the board of managers at the YMCA and A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital in the earliest years of the latter institution. For nine years he was a trustee for the village of Oneonta, and president for two years.
Roscoe Briggs was active with the Lodge of Masons, Rotary, president of the newly formed Otschodela Boy Scout Council in 1919, and first president of the Oneonta Community Concert Association in 1927. He also donated some land in 1959 in the First Ward between the former U&D Railroad tracks and the drained Electric Lake, for use as a YMCA day camp, used for only a short time.
Duncan Briggs served on the board of trustees at Hartwick College, the Otschodela Council of Boy Scouts, and, as chairman of the New York State Parks and Recreation Commission, secured money that allowed the city to design and build a greatly improved pool in Wilber Park.
On Monday: It was three strikes "" but still not an out for a professional baseball team in Cooperstown.
City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His website is