Fire destroys recently-restored Bartlett church that had stood since 1890

The steeple has stretched to the heavens since 1890.

It was once known as Central Christian Church in Bartlett, Texas.  But the gothic structure had been empty for decades until Kris Kaskel-Ruiz bought it in 2017. "She was in bad shape. She had been abandoned for over 30 plus years.  I like to say she had organic skylights," Kaskel-Ruiz said.

Kaskel-Ruiz works at a University but historic preservation is her passion.  

What came next: transformation.

"All I saw was what she could be you know.  I saw the beauty and even with all the shabbiness and all the damage, and I'll be honest with you I mean it was bad," she said.

The beautifully-restored sanctuary, described as a "kaleidoscope of light."  

Kaskel-Ruiz says the open house for the property was this past May.  She says the church could have been used as residential or commercial. "The acoustics in it were absolutely amazing," she said.

But that all changed Sunday morning.  Kaskel-Ruiz lives 2 and half hours away from Bartlett. She listened to a voicemail from her Bartlett neighbor. "In his very understated and stoic way he said that the house next door had caught on fire and that the church was smoking and it didn't look good," Kaskel-Ruiz said.

Kaskel-Ruiz made the drive to see what had become of the church she'd worked so hard to restore. "I start pulling up the street and then I see her.  And I just lost it. I was in the middle of the street and just lost it," she said.  "All the neighbors converged.  They were crying, there was a lot of people out there, the community had brought in water for the fire departments and also had made them sandwiches."

Kaskel-Ruiz and others in Bartlett have suspicions about the fire next door: arson.

"There were no utilities to the house, so how do you start a fire?" Kaskel-Ruiz wonders.

So what now? "In a generation, no one will even know there was a church there.  And all of those memories are gone.  And those memories define a culture," she said. Kaskel-Ruiz says she's planning on saving what she can...hymnals, door hinges...and donating them to a museum in Bartlett. "They've shared their memories with me and its just been a fantastic experience," she said.

The Bartlett Volunteer Fire Department tells FOX 7 the cause of the fire is still being investigated.