Gallatin church fire report: One of the seven readers of this weblog just e-mailed me about a fire tonight at a historic church building in Gallatin, Tennessee, a community northeast of Nashville. Bill Hudgins, my friend and co-worker for the past 17 years (and who is a regular commenter here), is a longtime member of the church and has been on the scene for much of the evening. He was nice enough to e-mail me and some others the following:
There was a fire at First Presby Church in Gallatin Sunday night, the church we go to and where we were married 25 years ago this coming Wednesday. It apparently started in the audio system near the front of the sanctuary, over on the right side as you face the building. Burned part of the organ and that front part of the sanctuary, the ceiling fell in over the choir and pulpit area, the heat broke out or at least something destroyed, a stained glass window the Dodsons bought in memory of Wilda’s brother, Frank, who died a few months after we were married.
There’s smoke and water damage in the new part of the church
behind the sanctuary, there was fire in the roof as well, and of course
smoke throughout the sanctuary. But they said the pews back from the
pulpit didn’t get wet, and we were able to salvage a lot of records and
items from the study and office and other parts of the building. It was pretty moving to see everyone pitching in to move things, older members struggling to carry speakers, books, chairs, and younger members stepping in to take the things and caution everyone about the ice that was quickly overtaking the parking lot.
People kept, well, sneaking is not quite the right word, but taking every opportunity to try to enter the sanctuary and other parts of the building to assess the damage and bring out more stuff. The baptismal font came out eventually – it narrowly escaped being crushed by the falling ceiling.
There’s a Dairy Queen just down the street a block, and they sent coffee and burgers up to the firefighters. Good thing there wasn’t another call tonight, as they had fully committed all their resources to this. We stayed about 90 minutes and when we left, they were still watching some hot spots in a roof area. I suspect they will be there quite a while yet to make sure it doesn’t flare up again.
A friend called us and we raced up there – a passerby had seen the smoke
and flames, and called the FD, which is just a block away. I got a
glimpse inside the sanctuary, and could see the damage to the organ, the
ceiling and walls. General consensus is that it is not as bad as it
could have been. The organ came from the old downtown Nashville Presby
church, so no knowing how old it is. Amazing that with all the old wood
trusses and organ and everything else, that it didn’t just go up in flames.
They had been talking about an addition, but the newest part design was
making it awkward to come up with a workable design. So this might turn
out to have a silver lining if they decide to tear down some or all of
the new part and rebuild the whole thing.
We will know more in the morning – I plan to go up there and see if I can help. The sheriff has offered us lots of trustys to clean, carry, etc. as well.
According to a story posted in the past few minutes on the website of the Gallatin News Herald, the church building is registered “by the Historical Society of Philadelphia as an American Presbyterian and Reformed Historical Site. It is the oldest church building in continuous existence in Gallatin and was first organized on Oct. 25, 1828. The building was erected in 1836-37.”