FRANKLIN, N.H. (AP) – The 140-acre farm where New Hampshire statesman Daniel Webster grew up could be the site of a retirement housing community.

Elmer Pease II of PD Associates Real Estate Consultants in Auburn signed a purchase and sales agreement for the property in the fall and expects to bring his initial building plans to city planners next month

“I’ve been in this business for 25 years, and I think this is a sterling opportunity,” Pease said. “It will create a nice tax base for the town, provide housing that is needed in New Hampshire, and there will be no children added into the school system.”

But to the family that has farmed the Webster grounds since 1960, the idea is a bad one. They worry about losing the land’s history.

“To see somebody come in and walk all over that for the almighty dollar isn’t right,” said Daniel Fife, who lives across the street with his father, Clarence. “We are here for only a short lifetime. As soon as they start putting houses on it, it will never be the same.”

Clarence Fife, 75, briefly owned the land before he sold it to the current owner, Sisters of the Holy Cross, in 1960 with the agreement that he could farm it for the next 33 years.

That lease expired in 2000, and while the Fifes don’t have an official arrangement to farm the land, their livelihood does depend on the alfalfa they harvests there.

Daniel Webster moved to the property with his family as a child and commuted by train from the farm to his Boston law office. Webster’s home and a small family cemetery still remain on the grounds.

In the late 1870s, the property became the New Hampshire Orphan’s Home, and it remained so until the 1950s. The walls in the dormitories and dining halls still hold the carvings of the orphans, and Daniel Fife finds their marbles when he’s working the fields.

The Fifes would like to preserve the property but can’t afford the $1.2 million asking price. They also haven’t been able to generate interest from many of the conservation and preservation groups they’ve contacted.

Pease is the latest in a line of developers who have looked at the property since Sisters of the Holy Cross put it up for sale in 2000.

The land came to Pease’s attention several months ago when a business associate suggested he look at it for the sort of retirement communities he had been building in southern New Hampshire. Pease said he intends to refurbish the brick and wood buildings on the property, including Webster’s house, which have fallen into disrepair. He will market them to business or health professionals who serve the older population.

Pease said he’d preserve much of the open space near the front of the property, which is along Route 3, and situate clusters of retirement homes along the river in the back.

“In a lot of my projects, we have kept as much open space as we can,” he said.

Information from: Concord Monitor,

AP-ES-07-19-04 1029EDT

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