Not since the wrecking balls came out in the 1950s and 1960s urban renewal has the city of Portsmouth faced a greater threat to its historic cultural and architectural resources than the imminent demolition of the Carey Cottage at Creek Farm.

Carey Cottage was designed by noted architect Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow for Arthur Astor Carey in 1887. It is rich in not just architectural detail, but stands in an area of the city unrivaled for its history, which includes the state colonial governor's mansion, being a magnet for the intellectual elite of Boston in the late 1800s and its role in negotiations of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty in 1905.

But, due to admittedly challenging circumstances, the iconic cottage is facing demolition by its current owner, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

If ever there were an issue to unify the residents of Portsmouth this is it. Despite the real challenges faced by the Forest Society, this historic building has to be saved, and can be saved. There is not a challenge that cannot be overcome.

The area around Little Harbor Road has been preserved in bits and pieces, which is better than nothing. Perhaps because it is tucked away off the beaten path its incredible history has faded and is often overlooked, but one only needs to review recent stories to know this is an opportunity that cannot be passed up.

The Forest Society received the donation from Lillian “Billie” Noel, who with her husband Chester Noel, acquired the property and converted it into apartments in the 1950s. The Forest Society is clear Billie Noel said the building had to be demolished but she gave it two years to try to save it. Those years have long since passed. Noel was also clear her wishes excluded commercial use of the cottage.

The Forest Society is challenged then to find an acceptable tenant, one that could invest up to $6 million to fully restore Carey Cottage. That will not be easy, but there has to be a way.

Help may be coming through Portsmouth Advocates, which last week announced it nominated the property to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “11 Most Endangered Historic Places.”

"Almost 300 threatened sites have been listed by the National Trust since they started the program in 1988, and nearly all have been saved,” said Portsmouth Advocates Chairwoman Kerry Vautrot.

A $6 million restoration is nothing to minimize, but, guided by the need to preserve this building and help maintain the historic integrity of the area, a path forward can be found. With proper guards in place to assure the intention of Billie Noel is honored, and with a pragmatic, long-term plan for restoration, it can be done.

If the residents of Portsmouth balked at the challenges of saving the old Civic Theater it would be condos today instead of The Music Hall.

The Forest Society is one of the most highly regarded and significant contributors to preserving the natural resources of New Hampshire. Acknowledgement of the difficulties it faces with Carey Cottage is necessary. And it’s vitally important to move forward immediately in staying any plan to demolish the historic cottage. The Forest Society has tried to save the cottage, but it is stuck between a rock and hard place in trying to save it while meeting the demands placed upon it through Noel’s donation.

Time is of the essence and that goes beyond stopping the demolition. A stay of demolition alone is not enough. A concrete and actionable plan for restoration and compatible reuse is paramount.

It can be done and the city’s current and future residents will be much better off having saved this incredible piece of Portsmouth history.