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Another chance
Couple brings life back to century-old church building

A hundred years ago, if you took a train into downtown Buford on a Sunday, you could disembark and walk to a stately brick building for church services. If a local couple has their way, you could soon take a train to Buford and walk to that same building for shopping, dining or an evening of entertainment.

The old church building that has stood at 170 W. Main St. for more than a century has been renovated to its forever glorious splendor by spouses Richard McMahan and Cheryl Bowlin, and they're marketing it for any number of uses.

The 20-month renovation of the old church, which required reconstructing the roof and most of the interior, was a labor of love for spouses McMahan and Bowlin. McMahan, an architect and builder, and Bowlin, who worked in her family's lumber business, both have an affinity for historic buildings and restoration.

"People who built back in the 1800s cared so much about their buildings," Bowlin said. "Don't bulldoze an old structure. It may be ugly right now, but it can have a second chance."

Now, the warmly lit entry hall is decorated in beige tones and antique gold appliques. Inside the main sanctuary, rays of sun tinted by stained-glass windows illuminate the room. A polished dark hardwood floor with a vintage appeal complements the dark wood of an arched stage alcove.

The 100-year-old structure, which was originally a Presbyterian church, has had second, third and fourth chances over the years. It became a Pentecostal church, and later a dress shop, bike shop, iron artist's studio and drum shop. During its life, a deteriorating roof got progressively worse, finally forcing the building to close for good several years ago.

Then McMahan and Bowlin, who have an eye for vintage structures, came along. McMahan has studied historic architecture and builds custom homes, and Bowlin collects antique patterns and interior designs. Together, they found the church to be the perfect undertaking. McMahan did most of the building work, while Bowlin worked on the design and colors.

"Most people don't realize all the intricate work that goes into a restoration like this. The casual rehabber wouldn't have the experience to recreate the historical detail of this building," McMahan said.

The couple started by doing some research on the old church in the city of Buford's archives. That's where they learned what the church looked like, and they began collecting authentic materials.

Bowlin found original patterns for the building's painted borders. The couple searched long and hard to find replicas of the rare orange-and-fuchsia-swirled stained-glass windows. The stained glass comes from colored sandstone, which they found at a stone manufacturer. They restored the original rafters and exterior brick and renovated the choir loft. The wall plaster was rehabilitated, and the original wood floors were re-stained.

The 5,000-square-foot building had only one bathroom, so the couple added two more. They also added new features to the 1,800-square-foot basement to make it a usable space. A notable appliance in the basement is the original iron furnace, which they repainted and now display as an antique.

With all of its new features and historical restorations, the couple hopes to attract a buyer for the property, which they have listed in the high $900,000s.

"This is our child," Bowlin said. "We want a good mommy and/or daddy for it. Someone who will care about it like we do."

Meanwhile, they will enjoy their creation a little longer with a grand reopening in the next few weeks. That's when they will showcase the property to friends and potential buyers.

"This is not a remodeling job," McMahan said. "Remodeling takes the old and makes it new. This is restoration, taking the new out and making it old - in magnificent style."

Bowlin agrees.

"This was a building that was going to die," Bowlin said, "Now it's got a new life and it's beautiful again."