Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Fire officials believe a lightning strike is the cause of a fire that struck the Sanctuary of the Holy Spirit church in Winder on Thursday evening. The church which was built in 1904 has changed names and been renovated several times.
Winder church fire
Fire officials believe a lightning strike is the cause of a fire that struck the Sanctuary of the Holy Spirit church in Winder on July 26, 2012. The church was built in 1904.
WINDER -- The first time the Rev. Phil Adair walked into the 100-year-old church, he fell through the floor of the bell tower and had to be taken away by ambulance.
But there was something about that old building on Candler Street in Winder -- the heart-pine floors, the marble steps, the stained glass windows -- that he fell in love with.
Even as he recovered from his leg injury, Adair and his family began to restore the structure, built in 1904 to house the city's Methodist church.
Seven years later, though, the pastor and his congregation watched as the church burned, leaving only its brick walls and columns.
Although an investigation is incomplete, fire officials believe a lightning strike caused the blaze at about 11 p.m. Thursday night, bringing an end to the church Adair and his Sanctuary of the Holy Spirit congregation saved from condemnation less than a decade before.
"It had good bones," Adair said of his first impression of the historic structure. "I kind of felt like David did when he learned the reward for killing Goliath. ... It looked like a great opportunity."
The restoration work never really ended. Two months ago, the glass was replaced, and new amplifiers and screens were never even installed.
"The piano's gone. The organ's gone. It's just unreal," Adair said, adding that the very elements that drew him to the building -- those heart-pine floors soaked so long ago in turpentine -- are likely the reason the fire burned so quickly.
"You are flooded with so many emotions, it's hard. For the last seven years this is what we did," Adair said, adding that the city's former fire chief Ray Mattison warned him during the restoration that if the building caught fire, "There's not enough water in Winder to put it out."
Just a month ago, Adair's granddaughter Ashley Chiado took her marriage vows in the sanctuary. She got a call from her brother-in-law around 4 a.m. about the fire.
"I was mostly in shock," Chiado said, remembering a young 19-year-old named Carl Bishop, who has since died, who figured out how to restore the bell tower before it was condemned. "Everyone's just devastated."
Chiado and her mother Amy Adair collected fragments of stained glass once the sun rose. And then they went home to tell Amy Adair's 8-year-old son Tristan.
"He wanted to come (back). He wanted to see it before they knocked down the walls," Amy Adair said. "He heard his first sermon there at age 2."
Fire Chief Matt Whiting said firefighters never had a chance to save the old building, which was fully engulfed in flames when they arrived. Instead, they worked to make sure nearby homes and businesses were safe from exposure.
"It was one of the landmarks of the city," said Whiting, who has lived in Winder his entire life. "We hate to see it go."
Phil Adair said church leaders had not yet made a decision about Sunday services.
Because the church had been grandfathered into a lot of city codes, he said he didn't believe officials would allow it to be rebuilt at the same location. Still, the congregation will go on.
"It's been a great seven years, and I'm sure the Lord will help us go from here," he said.