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New Holland Methodist Church welcomes a new sort of visitor — renters
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New Holland Studios in Gainesville, pictured Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, are the beginning of a new project for The Norton Agency. Called “Ncredible Properties,” the real estate company is looking to leave a stronger fingerprint on prominent, notable or historic properties. The collection of studio apartments are built inside a 115-year-old church. - photo by Nick Bowman

Apartment No. 6 spoke to Susan Coley.

Call it luck. Call it fate. Call it divine intervention. Whatever it’s called, it’s where Coley will call home come February — in a 115-year-old church that’s been transformed into an apartment building.

“I just count it a blessing and an honor to be in such a historical building,” Coley said as she sat in the parking lot of her soon-to-be home. “And God is in it. The spirit of Jesus Christ is in this house, and I'm just blessed. And to think of the people who have been here, the sermons that have been preached and the spirit that flowed through this church, it's just the greatest thing to me."

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Susan Coley sits in her apartment on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. Coley is a private caregiver for local elders who has rented out one of the units at New Holland Studios on Spring Street. - photo by Nick Bowman

She lives in Flowery Branch now, where she binges the show, “You Live in What?” It’s what got her hooked on the possibility of living in an old building that’s been restored. Apart from doing it herself, which wasn’t an option, she never thought it’d actually happen, though.

“Dreams like this come at a high price, and a lot of work is involved,” Coley said. “So much thought went into this renovation project, carefully creating living spaces while maintaining and exposing the beauty of this magnificent church.”

The Norton Agency has wrapped up renovations of the former New Holland Methodist Church, which it’s now calling New Holland Studios. The church, which has housed both Methodist and Baptist churches in its more than 100-year history, held its last service Nov. 17, 2013. 

The church is a landmark in the New Holland community off of Jesse Jewell Parkway. The village dates back to 1900 when the Pacolet Manufacturing Co. came to the area with what would be the largest textile mill in the state, and created a population that grew to at least 3,000.

The church held its first services in 1904, and much of that early 1900s architecture is seen today, even after the $1 million renovation.

Now it’s a landmark of a different sort — part of a campaign from The Norton Agency that focuses on unique or historic structures that both stand out in the community and offer the Gainesville-based real estate company a chance to stand out in the market.

And New Holland Studios stands out.

“Every apartment has something original,” said Emilie Cisco, director of brand management at The Norton Agency and daughter of the agency’s owner, Frank Norton. “Whether it's a brick wall or original floors, it's something like that. They tried to keep it unique and different.”

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A strip of brick sits exposed through drywall at a New Holland Studios apartment on the lower level of the building. - photo by Nick Bowman

When it comes to Coley’s apartment, there’s an exposed wooden support beam that makes it stand out. The high ceilings with ceiling-high, original windows bring in natural light.

“When I walked in and saw the windows, these windows spoke to me,” Coley said. “I loved them.”

Her apartment is upstairs on what is being called the Sanctuary Floor. There are five apartments on that floor, three of which have 21-foot ceilings and original stained-glass windows. The rounded ceiling and molding was even retained. Those three apartments will run $1,400 a month, utilities not included.

If you’re lucky enough to score apartment No. 9, you’ll get to sleep in the church’s bell tower.

The other two apartments on the Sanctuary Floor will run $800 a month, utilities included. They’re smaller, but still have an actual bedroom to separate from the living space.

Norton added full-size amenities in the kitchen — dishwasher, stove, oven, refrigerator, microwave, sink.

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Apartments in the 115-year-old church that now houses New Holland Studios range from modern to rustic, though all units contain touches of the original structure — whether it’s exposed brick in the lower level, exposed beams or lofty stain glass windows in others. - photo by Nick Bowman

And keeping with the original architecture, doors that would have otherwise been thrown out have been repurposed as part of the kitchen island. A door, complete with the holes for the handle, make up one side of each island.

The islands themselves are topped with either stone or butcher block.

“And originally, we were going to use the flooring for the counter, but it was so brittle we couldn't,” Frank Norton said. “So this wood came from a mill that's about a 100-year-old mill in Commerce. We wanted something that had character and was roughly the same age.”

Downstairs, there are four true studio apartments. Other than the smaller size, they have the same look and feel as the apartments upstairs. There’s exposed brick and even an original, exposed beam. They’ll run $800 a month, utilities included.

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Bob Norton talks about the renovations at New Holland Studios, a collection of apartments built into a historic Gainesville church, on Tuesday, Jan. 21. The $1 million renovation finished this month. - photo by Nick Bowman

“When we first came in, the rooms were really small, dark and there was no way I saw anything as a potential,” said Bob Norton, Frank Norton’s brother. “Now, look. This one room has five windows. And until you took everything out and put it back in, it's the first time I noticed all the natural light coming in.”

Cisco felt the same way. They both didn’t see what Frank Norton saw.

“I remember walking through it before it was gutted, right after they bought it and I was like, ‘You want to do what with this?’” Cisco said. “The basement, it just felt dark and it was small rooms and really broken up. And once they opened it up, you have all this really natural light. You don't feel like you have low ceilings. The transformation has been shocking.”

Making it all happen was no easy task, though. While the structure was sound, it was a complete renovation and remodel. With the high ceilings, working around the stained glass and making sure to expose some of the original features, it was work Michael Bogue wasn’t used to.

“Framing the walls upstairs, the curved ones, the dome shape there, it was one stick at a time,” Bogue said. “Every one of them is custom cut, custom made. The angles are all different on each one as you go up through there, so that was a challenge.”

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Mike Bogue is the builder behind the renovations of the 115-year-old church in New Holland that is now home to New Holland Studios. Bogue and his teams had their work cut out of them renovating the historic structure, from lifting and removing its 1,500-pound bell to preserving as much of the original woodwork as possible. - photo by Nick Bowman

But as he stands outside, looking at how everything has turned out, he can’t help but smile. Cisco said Bogue smiles every time he talks about the property.

“Once you get a chance to step back and look at it and think about what it took to do it, it's incredible,” Bogue said.

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The retired church bell sits outside New Holland Studios on Tuesday, Jan. 21, near Gainesville. The former New Holland Methodist Church, which also served as a Baptist church, has been converted into studio apartments by The Norton Agency. - photo by Nick Bowman
He can say that now because the most stressful part — moving the bell from the church’s 1,500-pound bell tower — is over.

He said it took time, patience and a boom truck lifting an extremely heavy bell over a very old roof.

“That was probably the most stressful thing I've done,” Bogue said. “Just because, you can fix stuff when you're doing a remodel. But you drop a bell, there's no fixing that.”

That bell is still on the property and will be displayed on a platform outside the apartments. Nearby, The Norton Agency plans to put in a pavilion with a picnic table, a fire pit and a charcoal grill.

You might see things like that at a church nowadays, but it was never at the church in New Holland.

In its history, many people sat in the church that now holds apartments for rent. There was an altar, a baptismal, pews. Hymns were sung and prayers prayed.

Now there are bedrooms, dining room tables, televisions.

It’s something Coley holds dear and is excited for.

“To live in a church, it's just one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me,” Coley said.

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A few renters at New Holland Studios will get quite the perk from their unit: Huge stained glass windows that catch either morning or evening sun depending on the side of the building. - photo by Nick Bowman
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