A 125-year-old church sat dilapidated for decades in a small Texas town, but now it's a cozy rental with a loft and original features. Take a look inside.

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A 125-year-old church sat dilapidated for decades in a small Texas town, but now it's a cozy rental with a loft and original features. Take a look inside.
  • Bartlett Presbyterian Church was built in 1899 before shutting down in the 1970s.
  • Jennifer Tucker helped restore the dilapidated building into a vacation rental with a loft.

Bartlett Presbyterian Church had sat abandoned and dilapidated for decades when Jennifer Tucker found it.

"It had critters living underneath it and there were so many fleas in the building that my feet were covered," Tucker, 49, told Business Insider. "It was awful."

The Victorian-style church sits in Bartlett, a small Texas city with about 1,600 residents. Although the steeple on the Victorian-style church survived, the paint had peeled, windows shattered, and the building leaned slightly to the left.

Still, Tucker was enchanted.

"It spoke to me. It really did keep me up at night," Tucker said of the church. "It was still beautiful in its own little weathered old lady way."

Tucker owns the real-estate brokerage Amazing Realty and is enthusiastic about historic preservation. She transformed the old church — now dubbed Heavenly Hideaway — into a one-bedroom vacation rental with a loft and several original features mixed in with new amenities available for $136 a night.

Keep reading to learn how Tucker transformed a 125-year-old church into a guest-favorite Airbnb.

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Bartlett Presbyterian Church was founded in 1899 and had a congregation until the 1970s.

Bartlett Presbyterian Church was founded in 1899 and had a congregation until the 1970s.
The plaque outside of Heavenly Hideaway.Erik Fossum/Fossum Studios

The history behind Bartlett Presbyterian Church is displayed on a plaque nailed outside the building. The first congregation, called Nazareth Church of Central Texas Presbytery, took shape in June 1875 before being reorganized at its current location in 1897. The church as we know it was erected in 1899 and became a Texas Historic Landmark in 1970. The church shuttered soon after.

"There are people in Bartlett who went there in the 60s and 70s that can remember when it was still a functioning church," Tucker said.

The church is embedded with nostalgic artifacts that reveal its past.

The church is embedded with nostalgic artifacts that reveal its past.
Photo showing one of the quilting circle's notebooks found in Heavenly Hideaway.Courtesy of Jennifer Tucker.

The church served as more than a place of worship. It was a communal space where the women of Bartlett's past gathered each Wednesday for a quilting circle and strategized how best to help their neighbors.

Tucker told BI that the women voted on a secretary, who was charged with keeping track of all their good deeds in a notebook. That notebook is now displayed inside the rental for guests to see.

"In the quilting circle, they would say who was sick in the community, how many cards they wrote, who they cooked for that week, who they visited in the hospital," Tucker said. "They never forgot anybody at the hospital, and they always had time to raise an extra 50 cents to make sure there was food in the pantry."

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Tucker purchased the church in October 2020 and finished renovations in May 2021.

Tucker purchased the church in October 2020 and finished renovations in May 2021.
The renovation process took seven months.Erik Fossum/Fossum Studios

After purchasing the church in October 2020, Tucker and a crew with preservation experience renovated the 1,400-square-foot space. The process took seven months and cost about $200,000.

"I never wanted people to lose track of the fact that they were in a church, but I also still wanted them to feel cozy," Tucker said.

Heavenly Hideaway retained many of the church's original features, including the hardwood floors.

Heavenly Hideaway retained many of the church's original features, including the hardwood floors.
Heavenly Hideaway living room. Erik Fossum/Fossum Studios

Heavenly Hideaway's living room is a cozy space adorned with gray decor and wood accents. Tucker told BI that the hardwood floors are original to the church despite being water-damaged.

Fortunately, Tucker and her team found a workaround.

"I used the wood from the bathroom to replace the rotten wood in other places throughout the building," Tucker said. "Every piece of hardwood that you see is original."

She also pointed out the hand-carved columns that featured German detailing.

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The gourmet kitchen used to be the church's sanctuary.

The gourmet kitchen used to be the church's sanctuary.
Heavenly Hideaway kitchen. Erik Fossum/Fossum Studios

Heavenly Hideaway has an open-floor concept that connects the living room to the kitchen, where the sanctuary used to sit. Guests will find modern amenities like a refrigerator, freezer, and cooking essentials.

Guests in the church can also see the large pointed windows that are original to the church. Although guests often ask if the windows were once stained glass, Tucker said that's unlikely.

"The settlers who built that building were very poor, and they would never have been able to afford stained glass," Tucker said.

She said that preserving the windows took nine months and a crew member's meticulous attention.

The first floor also houses a dining room, which used to be the original choir loft.

The first floor also houses a dining room, which used to be the original choir loft.
Heavenly Hideaway dining room. Erik Fossum/Fossum Studios

A few steps from the living room is the dining space, complete with a long wooden table and blue chairs.

Although the table is a new addition, the dining room space used to be a choir loft used by the early congregation.

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The main bedroom is found downstairs with a queen-sized mattress.

The main bedroom is found downstairs with a queen-sized mattress.
Heavenly Hideaway bedroom. Erik Fossum/Fossum Studios

Guests will find the main bedroom with plush grey carpeting and large windows on the first floor. Tucker said the home's paint color, visible in the bedroom and on the door's trim, is a callback to the church's original blue wallpaper.

She explained that she stumbled upon the original wallpaper while doing restoration work.

"The colors are very intentional as well," Tucker said.

The bathroom's hardwood floor was replaced with tiles.

The bathroom's hardwood floor was replaced with tiles.
Heavenly Hideaway bathroom. Erik Fossum/Fossum Studios

Inside Heavenly Hideaway, one bathroom features an old faucet bathtub surrounded by tiles on nearly all sides. Tucker said her team added the tile to the bathroom after removing the hardwood to restore the rest of the church.

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A second bathroom has matching blue tiles and a shower.

A second bathroom has matching blue tiles and a shower.
Heavenly Hideaway second bedroom. Erik Fossum/Fossum Studios

The church houses a second bathroom on the first floor with a shower, toilet, and sink. Gold accents were added for a pop of color.

A winding staircase leads guests to the second-story loft.

A winding staircase leads guests to the second-story loft.
Heavenly Hideaway staircase. Erik Fossum/Fossum Studios.

Tucker said the staircase is one of the only modern additions they included in the home.

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Upstairs, there's a loft where guests can relax and spend time together.

Upstairs, there's a loft where guests can relax and spend time together.
Heavenly Hideaway loft. Erik Fossum/Fossum Studios

Although not considered an official bedroom, guests can kick their feet up in the second-story loft. In addition to soft carpeting, the space has two queen-sized beds and a partial window.

Heavenly Hideaway is a guest-favorite vacation spot that's racked up glowing reviews.

Heavenly Hideaway is a guest-favorite vacation spot that's racked up glowing reviews.
Heavenly Hideaway in Bartlett, Texas.Erik Fossum/Fossum Studios

Tucker said travelers have shown a real interest in Heavenly Hideaway, whether for a vacation stay or taking engagement photos. On Airbnb, the listing earned the "guest favorite" title and has 4.84 stars.

"We have had our family Christmas here for several years and it has been just what we need," one review read. "Bartlett is our hometown and though we don't have a home there anymore, this AirBnB feels like home. Thank you Jennifer for hosting us."

Another added: "It is a beautiful and enchanting church. Seeing it brought back to life made my heart happy. Wonderful space, well stocked with what you need."

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