Couple not strangers to restoring old buildings

BUFORD - Cheryl Bowlin and her husband Richard McMahan have a love for old buildings.

Their home in John's Creek was built in 1804 and, after an extensive restoration job by the couple, the home is the epitome of rustic charm.

"It had hay and a fox living in it when I found it 30 years ago," Bowlin said with a laugh. "Now it's surrounded by multi-million dollar houses. I paid $18,000 for it in 1978. It's 6,000 square feet, all wood, it's an amazing house."

The pair is not only responsible for refurbishing their own home but a number of other old buildings. But lately their project has been a 100-year-old church in downtown Buford.

For the last 20 months Bowlin and McMahan have been stripping paint, replacing plywood and scavenging for old glass in an effort to restore the church's century old character.

Built in the 1920s, the church on West Main Street was once home to a Presbyterian congregation, but growth moved them out and a Pentecostal congregation in, Bowlin said.

The building was next home to a group of businesses until the physical state of building became unbearable.

"The roof became a big problem," Bowlin said. "There was a large hole a person could have fit through."

Though the structure was rundown when she found it, Bowlin said she fell in love with the old church the minute she discovered the listing on the Internet.

"We've never done anything like this," Bowlin said of the restoration. "We knew it would take a special group of people and we wanted to be those people."

Creating two new bathrooms, matching handmade and painted wood molding and glazing walls were just a few of the challenges the couple said they came upon while giving the building a facelift.

After months of hard work, the restoration is 99 percent complete, Bowlin said. And the building is up for sale.

Bowlin said the old church would make for a great restaurant or comedy club. With about 5,000-plus square feet, Bowlin said the multi-level building could seat about 190 people in the middle level, about 125 on the balcony and 110 downstairs.

The couple is now looking for the right buyers who will preserve their hard work.

"I'm looking for a good mommy and daddy for this beautiful child," Bowlin said of the building. "It's become a joy of ours."

Bowlin and McMahan's next project is to restore a pair of old homes that were set to be condemned.

"We build new but this is our love," Bowlin said. "I think most people see an old building and say just bulldoze it, get it out of here, but they see it when it's done and think, 'Oh, why didn't I think of that?'"