Tuesday, October 26, 2021

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Raleigh native restoring, moving into 125-year-old Haw River church

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It wasn’t initially the quaint feel of Haw River that drew Raleigh native Andrew Leager to town. Rather, it was the long-empty, nearly 125-year-old chapel overlooking the town on West Main Street that caught his eye as he sped by on an Amtrak train.

Initially spotted from his vantage point as an Amtrak passenger whizzing by on the nearby train tracks, a Raleigh man fell in love with the 125-year-old church building in Haw River, ultimately buying it and converting it into a combination home and workshop.

“I’ve been looking for 20 years to have a building that is like a church,” he told The Alamance News last week during a tour of the site, which has been under steady renovation for months. “This building happened to be exactly what I was looking for. My jaw dropped and I said, ‘There it is.’”

Leager, 72, who aims to finish moving into the 3,200-square foot church by the end of January, explained that the layout of the building — a large center room bordered by smaller rooms in the front and rear — lends itself to the combined home and studio that he spent the past two decades on the hunt for.

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The church’s front entryway (shown above) and chapel (below) are adorned with pressed tin ceilings.

The future studio area is set to accommodate, in large part, his wooden barrel-making operation. In addition to that trade, he’s been a contractor and cabinetmaker since the 1970’s, an architect since the 1980’s, a former brewery owner, and remains an avid musician, artist, and cook.

The future living area will also share the room with the studio, while Leager’s bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom will be at the rear of the old church. The front rooms will be converted into guestrooms. The 1,800 square feet of basement space will function mainly as a workshop.

The church’s side door (shown above) leads into Andrew Leager’s kitchen and includes brass doorknobs and locks and dark red paint around the trim.

“This is what happens when you get into construction on an old building,” he told the newspaper. “You get this situation that opens up possibilities.”

As of last Monday, the rear living space had been outfitted by Leager with insulation and sheetrock, and the walls were expected to be fully painted by the end of the week. After painting is completed, European white oak floors are planned to be placed over the church’s original hard pine subfloors.

The tall, ornate windows in the chapel area were described as a “one-at-a-time project,” with the owner having already restored one on the building’s west side.

The tall windows of the chapel have proven to be a “one-at-a-time project” for Leager, one which is set to receive more attention after he finishes moving into the building later this winter.

Even as his primary residence is still in Raleigh, the soon-to-be Haw River resident has enjoyed meeting his new neighbors, including mayor Kelly Allen, who has also toured the building.

“I’m here to bring some new life to this building,” he said. “I feel like I’m inside a significant piece of architecture.”

End of article; bonus photos continue below.

Church building owner Andrew Leager stands under what is soon to be his stove vent. The kitchen, he explained, is his “pride and joy.” “I just love to cook,” he says. “Cooking is as important as bathing and breathing.”

Leager shows plans for the former church’s exterior that he drew up using his computer.

The main hallway in the rear of the church, where Leager’s bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen will be, also contains an inset display area for his artwork, which includes paintings and silkscreens.

What used to be a sanctuary for Haw River mill workers is now a temporary “staging area” that Leager plans, eventually, to convert into a combined studio and living room.

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