When the remains of Long Memorial United Methodist Church were leveled several weeks ago, many residents feared that the historic Long house across the street would be next.
It almost was.
Homeowner Rob Gurganus received a phone call the day that the church was demolished. The man on the backhoe was still there and had offered to tear down the house for free. It could be on the ground by lunchtime.
"My specific instructions were, 'Do not touch that house," Gurganus said.
Gurganus has lived in the Long House for as long as he can remember.
He has been told that the previous owner, Mrs. Miller, was approached by several business owners but sold it to his family decades ago because she wanted the house to be a home.
Gurganus said his parents created a happy one there, and he and his wife, Emily, have spent eight years making it better for their own young family.
The couple had replaced the roof, wiring, plumbing and heating unit. The east wall had recently been rebuilt and numerous other cosmetic improvements had also been made.
"You put all of that into a house, and then in 15 seconds all of that work is ripped away from you," Gurganus said.
The Gurganuses sought shelter at the Cordova Church of Christ on April 27. After the storm, someone assured them that their home had survived.
Emily could tell from afar that there was something different about the house, however. Her husband walked closer and realized that he could see the sky through the upstairs windows.
An EF4 tornado had torn the roof off of the Long house and sent it crashing into the sanctuary of the church that also bore the name of city founder Benjamin Long.
The church was irreparably damaged. The house, which has been a beacon on the hill overlooking downtown since it was built in the 1870s, was unlivable.
"I do not know how many people came to me and said they cried when they saw my house," Gurganus said.
The Gurganuses feared that their home might collapse before they could return on April 28 to retrieve more of their belongings. The insurance company later determined that the house was a total loss.
As Gurganus prepared to say good-bye to his boyhood home, he consoled himself with the thought that some of it could be salvaged.
He hoped that its columns, fireplace mantles, staircase with a mahogony banister, doors, porcelain door knobs handmade in Georgia, lead glass windows and other architectural features could be put to use in another historic home.
"We had resigned ourselves to selling the house for parts or for the land," Gurganus said.
Gurganus had a list of prospective buyers. As the weeks passed, all interested parties backed out and the house continued to deteriorate each time it rained.
Last week, Gurganus decided to put the house on the market. The day he was set to meet with a real estate agent, he saw Andrea Pate.
Pate is a Cordova native who has coordinated a massive disaster relief effort out of Free Will Baptist Church, which is adjacent to Gurganus' home.
She and her husband, Jeremy, are now the new owners of the Long house.
Pate said the day she came back from vacation and saw that the church had been torn down, she stood on the hill and cried.
When she learned that the Long house was for sale, she jumped at the opportunity to save it from a similar fate.
Pate envisions that one day it will be a prime site for weddings, proms, showers, teas, high school yearbook photos and community gatherings. She also plans to move her law practice from Jasper to Cordova.
However, Pate is quick to point out that restoring the Long house is a massive undertaking and she cannot accomplish it alone.
"God is going to provide the way for this to be saved," Pate said. "We are going to use it for the good of this community, and I think it is going to bring hope and pride back to Cordova when we come together to get this done."
Pate said numerous volunteers who came to Cordova after the tornadoes to work for storm survivors have offered to help with the restoration project, which is already underway.
Pate said many drivers have stopped in the street and yelled through their car windows "Are you fixing it or tearing it down?" at the volunteers working on the Long house.
"When the volunteers say, 'We're fixing it,' they blow their horns or give them a thumbs up. The support has been overwhelming from everyone," Pate said.