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Church Street revival
Couple completes lengthy restoration of 1898 duplex

By Paul Huggins
DAILY Staff Writer 340-2395

The phrase that every home renovator hopes to escape fell on top of Margaret Lindsay and her latest project in Old Decatur.

Like these brown leaves that will soon give way to springtime green, this duplex shows new life at Church and Line streets Northeast. Mac McGowan, pictured, helped his daughter and son-in-law, Margaret and Elias Lindsay, not shown, renovate the 1898 house.
DAILY Photo by Dan Henry
Like these brown leaves that will soon give way to springtime green, this duplex shows new life at Church and Line streets Northeast. Mac McGowan, pictured, helped his daughter and son-in-law, Margaret and Elias Lindsay, not shown, renovate the 1898 house.
"It was worse than we thought," Lindsay said of the Church Street Northeast duplex, which dates to 1898.

Well into the project in January 2003, Lindsay told THE DAILY then that she hoped she and her husband, Elias, would be done in several months. More damage than expected and a devout attention to details, however, kept the project going another two years. The new tenants moved in at the end of February.

Though it was more time consuming and expensive than first imagined, Lindsay said the final product made it worthwhile. She maintains that saving historic structures will always be worth the sacrifices.

"It's beautiful," she said of the property, which now features two apartments. "Both sides are very pretty, but they're both very different."

The duplex once featured a common hall, called a dogtrot, splitting the house in two. But a domestic squabble caused the late Judge Newton Powell to order the dogtrot removed so the occupants didn't have to see each other.

Lindsay said she originally was told of an irreparable disagreement between two Todd sisters and has since learned from a woman who grew up in the neighborhood that it was a husband-and-wife conflict. She has searched the Morgan County Archives and called descendents of the Todd family, but still hasn't found an official explanation.

When the Lindsays started the project in 2002, they originally wanted to reincorporate the dogtrot, but instead chose to add more room to the apartments.

The city of Decatur condemned the duplex before the Lindsays bought it. Its gas heating system was a hazard and termites had damaged most woodwork. The renovation process involved the transfer of two-thirds of the former structure to the landfill, leaving mostly historic accents to the structure.

The new structure features both sets of original back-to-back fireplaces, original flooring and wainscoting in one apartment, and an original door with transom in the other apartment.

Other renovations

Besides new wiring and plumbing, the Lindsays put in hardwood floors where the old wood was unsalvageable and also raised the ceilings to the original 12-foot height. They accented with tray ceilings in the kitchens, which also feature tiled floors and new appliances. One of the bathrooms also has an antique claw foot tub.

"I feel like I got a new place with old-world charm," said Marsha Gargis, one of the tenants, who moved from the historic-feeling McNeil Apartments on Lafayette Street Northeast.

With a longtime love of old houses, she said she routinely came by to watch the renovation taking shape and slowly fell in love with it, especially the back-to-back fireplaces that front her bedroom and den.

"I love the little details on the woodwork," she said. "And I was already thinking about how to decorate them for Christmas."

In the evening, the apartment emits a warm glow, Gargis added, and pointed to a rough-glass window over the doorway between the den and bedroom that sparkles from the interior lights. Lindsay salvaged the glass from a house up the street, which First Baptist Church recently razed.

The duplex was the second house on Church Street renovated by the Lindsays, who live in Athens. Though the duplex was a tough chore, Lindsay said, they are open to doing another if the opportunity arises.

She said she is most pleased with how the renovation improved the look at Church and Line streets. A few years ago, two of the corners were in disrepair, including the two-story white house, which was one of the neighborhood's oldest.

A developer renovated the white house a couple years ago, so now both corners have curb appeal.

"It really is quite a beautiful resurrection," said Dan Price who serves as the architectural representative on the Decatur Historical Commission. "And on that street it's particularly good to see that happen."

Church Street is on the edge of the Old Decatur historic district, and preservation officials have said the edges of the district are the most vulnerable to modern encroachments.

Church Street has lost more than a half dozen homes in recent years to accommodate the growing needs of First Baptist Church, including four structures this winter to make room for parking lots.

"That house was far gone and condemned, and rightfully so," Price said. "But time and investment and effort has returned it to rentable property.

"I'm just glad to see that some people know what an old house is worth," he said. "And they returned it to the community, which is basically what you do when you restore a home. You give something to a community that otherwise could become a parking lot."

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