Bartlett church fire

Firefighters try to keep a blaze from spreading on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, from a house to an historic Bartlett church building that was recently restored.

BARTLETT — A fire Sunday morning consumed an empty home in Bartlett and then spread to a newly restored former church.

Lost in the blaze were the old Dawson home at 518 Pietzsch St. and the former First Presbyterian/Central Christian Church behind it at 504 W. Jackson St.

The fire’s cause is under investigation by the Williamson County Fire Marshal’s office, the department said. A Telegram email to that office wasn’t returned by press time.

The Dawson house was once the home of Lois and Jerry Dawson and their family. The Dawsons are the owners of Lois and Jerry’s, a well-known restaurant in Bartlett.

No one had lived in the house for years, city of Bartlett administrator-secretary Gayle Bielss said Monday. Bielss said she was told the house did not have water or electricity connected to it and was not insured.

Firefighters “poured a lot of water” on the fire to try and keep it away from the church, she added.

Bartlett firefighters were sent to the fire at 7:21 a.m., along with the Holland Volunteer Fire Department. When firefighters arrived, the house was engulfed and threatened an 18-wheeler on one side and the church on the other. More help was requested from Jarrell and Taylor fire departments.

Bystanders helped get the water supply established at a nearby hydrant and a more aggressive approach was begun by responders.

A 10-minute loss of water pressure led to the collapse of the wall near the former church and the fire then spread to the church.

Firefighters from Bartlett, Holland, Granger, Jarrell, Taylor, Williamson County ESD and Davilla fought the fire. Also responding were Temple AMR, Williamson County EMS, Williamson County Communications, Bell County Communications and Bartlett Police Department.

The historic church

The church, an example of late 19th century Victorian Gothic architecture, was more than 100 years old but was recently restored, Kris Kaskel-Ruiz previously told the Telegram.

The closed church was featured by Willard B. Robinson in his 1994 book, “Reflections of Faith — Houses of Worship in the Lone Star State.” Robinson referred to it as the former First Presbyterian Church.

A listing online in Old House Dreams said the old church was built in 1899 and was sold. The listing called the church a “rare piece of history.”

Despite all the damage from the roof, caved-in floors and ceilings and other damage, Ruiz said for the earlier restoration effort she saw with hopeful eyes the stained glass windows, domed ceiling, doors and baptistery pool.

Fifteen months of intense hard work went into fixing the structure, Ruiz said.

An open house to view the renovated church was held May 11. The building was listed for sale as either a residential or commercial property.

Residents relate stories

Brandon Grigsby and Lauren Arnold went outside at about 7:15 a.m. and saw fire in the northwest corner of the house and the grass around it on fire, he said.

Grigsby said the house was engulfed while he was on the phone with 911.

“It was out of a movie scene the way it just totally caught fire all at once almost,” he said.

Firefighters tried to contain the blaze to the Dawson house. Water was put on the church before the fire jumped.

Mona Burnett, who lives near where the fires occurred, said a woman came to her house to tell her to take precautions because of the burning embers raining down.

Jesse Luna saw the fire from his house down the street and went to look. He took several pictures of the fast spreading fire.

Firefighters cleared the scene at 3:26 a.m. Monday.

Residents supplied water and sandwiches to firefighters and hugs to other residents who needed them, said Jennifer Welch, the Realtor in charge of the former church’s sale.