Dozens of families are displaced and rebuilding this Christmas season as they continue to recover from the severe storms that swept through the Channel 3 viewing area.
The historic Van Dyke Mansion is among the structures destroyed by the EF-2 tornado on Nov. 30.
Lisa Long and her husband bought the mansion about six years ago and have been working over the past three to four years to restore the nearly 200year-old structure, while living in another home next to mansion.
"It has a lot of local history concerning the owner and builder, so it drew us to it. We didn't want to see the history lost. We had to have metal put on the roof and all the electrical done because it had been vandalized and the wiring had been stolen before so all the plumbing was redone," Long said. "It was a labor of love."
The couple was about six months away from moving into what Long said is their dream home.
But the tornado brought their plans of moving in, to a halt.
"I looked outside and it was an oh my gosh kind of moment, and really saw that the pillars were there with no porch roof, but because it had a low pitched roof on it, didn't notice that the entire roof was gone," said Long.
The extensive damage included a total loss of the roof, along with the exterior walls surrounding an upstairs bedroom. A significant portion of the porch on two sides of the house was left shattered, with several of the two-story white columns splintered and strewn across the yard, along with dozens of the bricks that were made by hand on site during the home's construction.
As the Long's prepare for a massive rebuild and restoration project, they say the community's love and support makes this heartbreaking task a little more bearable.
"Everyone asks have you cried over the house? I've not cried over the house. I'm heartbroken about the house. We're gonna have work to do and we'll get it done. What's brought me to tears is how everyone else has loved the house, has been so concerned about us and really wants to help," said Long.
The couple does have a GoFundMe page to help restore the Van Dyke Mansion and their future home. They say the initial rough estimate for the roof and wall is $50,000.
Van Dyke Mansion History:
Known as "Prospect Hill," the home was built around 1833 by Thomas Nixon Van Dyke, a prominent Athens lawyer and judge who also served as president of the Hiwassee Railroad and was active in the civic endeavors of the city. The home was one of the largest in the area, and the then-80 -plus-acre estate boasted magnificent terraced gardens and well-appointed grounds – some of which later became Cedar Grove Cemetery.
The "showplace" during the Civil War entertained both Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and Union General William T. Sherman, the latter taking up residence in the house while Van Dyke, a staunch Secessionist and Confederate sympathizer who was arrested in 1864 by Union soldiers, spent time in a prison camp until the war's end, returning to Athens in 1866, where he would live out the remainder of his life.
The architect company was, Cleage and Crutchfield. The firm was a well-known merchandising and construction business enterprise ran by Samuel Cleage and his son-in-law Thomas Crutchfield, who son's later became prominent in the business and political history of Chattanooga.