A threat of demolition to Creek Farm’s mansion house in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, by the venerable non-profit Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests was the topic of Richard Candee’s seminar AM 780 Problems in Historic Preservation in 2001.
This house, designed in 1887-88 by Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow for the Carey family, had been remodeled into eleven apartments by its owners Chester and Lillian Noel. Its sale to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests in September 2000 by Mrs. Noel seemed laudable: to create a nature preserve in an urban setting for the use and enjoyment of the public. But her deed agreement required the SPNHF to “raze or remove” the main house within two years after her death or upon relinquishment of her life estate in the property. While the NH Division of Historical Resources determined the house was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, the press began to address the difficulties this presented to both land conservationists and preservationists.
The semester-long seminar studied the major issues surrounding the acquisition of Creek Farm by the Society and its plan to demolish this major architectural landmark. In addition to providing contextual background on Creek Farm and the significance of its major building, the course considered a range of alternatives to demolition–from partnership ideas to real estate development possibilities — which encompass stewardship ideals. The class report detailed its future use as affordable housing for the arts community (an identified need in the seacoast) that has continuity with both the history and architecture of Creek Farm. In a final public presentation at the Portsmouth Music Hall students demonstrated that demolition of the house was not an absolute requirement and provided vital information to aid in the pursuit of a constructive management plan for Creek Farm and its historic resources.
A ‘blue-ribbon’ committee appointed by the Forest Society decided four months later that all this could, in fact, be done. As a result, Mrs. Noel removed the stipulation for demolition from the deed and continued to live at Creek Farm with the other tenants. Her death on May 25, 2004, triggered the implementation of the Forest Society’s agreements.