Demolition to Church/Home after fire

Claudia Loucks

It most likely was the pounding on the door to the Geneseo home of Jason and Nicole Cherry that had a lot to do with the family’s safety on the evening of Wednesday, July 28, when the front of their home was engulfed in flames.

The family was gathered in the kitchen of their home, the former First Baptist Church at the corner of West Pearl and South Center Streets in Geneseo, when they heard the banging on the side door to their home.

Their neighbor, Jeff DeCap, was pounding and banging on the door and he didn’t stop until “I came to the door,” Jason Cherry said.

“The church steeple was in flames and smoke was pouring out of the roof and we had no idea there was a fire happening,” he said, and added that he then ran back up the steps to the kitchen to get his wife and two daughters to safety…”After they were outside, I tried to go back up, to see if I could save anything, but the steps were already filled with smoke, already up in flames, and I ran back out.”

His wife and daughters, along with their two rescue dogs, were safely across the street by that time.

Jason Cherry has a history of asthma and was treated for smoke inhalation at Hammond-Henry Hospital after escaping the flames ….”I was there about three hours,” he said, and his wife added, “I forced him to go to the hospital. I needed him to be healthy.”

The front part of the home/church was primarily empty, Jason said, and explained that the burned area, the original sanctuary with 15-foot ceilings, was scheduled to be demolished at a later time as the family had been using that space as a “fun area,” and had a trampoline set up in it.

That part had substantial foundation issues, Jason Cherry said, and he explained the family was living in the newer portion of the structure.

The church was built in 1864, with the back addition, which is where they were living, built in the early 2000’s, he said.

The demolition to the destroyed portion of the structure got underway on Monday, Aug. 9, and when asked if the family had any plans for the vacant space to the front of their home, Nicole Cherry answered, “We now have a great yard in the middle of town.”

The couple plans to finish the rear of the building to complete their home and said they do not have plans to rebuild what was destroyed…”It will no longer look like a church, but like a family home,” she said.

They are staying with relatives and do not know when they will be able to return to their home as all furnishings had to be taken out to be cleaned.

Many of the “church” items had already been removed from the building, including the stained glass windows which were purchased by an architectural salvage company in Peoria.

The couple did keep some of the windows with plans to use them in finishing the décor of their home.

“We like repurposing things, not dumping them in a landfill,” Nicole Cherry said. “We like to know they are going to be used again.”

Both Jason and Nicole commented on the “generosity of the community,” and said they have received cards and offers of help from friends and neighbors and “complete strangers reaching out asking how they could help.”

“We know we were incredibly lucky to have gotten out of the fire and we do have insurance,” the couple said, adding that the real heroes are the first responders, the firemen, the police and the EMT’s.”

“Without their swift action, the State Fire Marshal said within 15 minutes we would have lost everything,” Jason Cherry said.

“They are volunteers and they voluntarily showed up to save our house, on the hottest day of the year,” Nicole Cherry added.

“I have told people who have offered to help us to take a fireman out to dinner or drop off cookies at the police and fire departments instead,” she said. “

Jason Cherry is a 2002 graduate of Geneseo High School. He is on the brand management team at Deere & Co., and his wife is a secretary at Geneseo High School.

The couple purchased the former church in 2016 and Nicole Cherry said she and her husband had often talked about buying a church and turning it into a family home.

“We met in art school and we like non-traditional spaces, so purchasing the church was not too different for us,” she said.

This photo was taken after the burned portion of the structure was demolished on Monday, Aug. 9.
The interior of the vacant area, which formerly was the church sanctuary, was destroyed by fire. The building is the Geneseo home of Jason and Nicole Cherry.