Grundy authorities, TBI seek leads in suspicious April 8 fire at historic church

fire tile

As the investigation in Grundy County, Tennessee, continues into a suspicious early-April fire at historic Christ Church Episcopal, the congregation is coming to grips with the damage and looking ahead to repairs and a new security system.

Though church officials are wrangling with decisions on estimates for repairs to damaged portions of the building, the first priority is security and the church is fundraising for the equipment, Christ Church Episcopal Rev. Amy Bentley Lamborn said Monday in a telephone interview.

"That's the biggest concern - just feeling vulnerable that this has happened - and really before we get anything else done repair-wise, we're working on our security," Lamborn said. Once the building is secure, church officials and the congregation can focus on repairs, she said.

The church is back in operation, if still damaged, and the congregation is worshipping in the nave, a central part of the church, she said.

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"We're really going about business as usual," Lamborn said. "We had two areas of the church affected and we're able to navigate around those areas for now."

The church already had some other needs, too, including roof and siding work, she said.

Church officials want to make the repairs appropriate to preserve the building's architecture so it remains listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The church received the designation in 2015 and the church at the corner of 10th and Fifth streets dates back to 1925, according to registry information with the National Park Service.

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The current building stands on the same site as the original 1873 church building and is adjacent to the parish house on the property. That building was destroyed by a storm but was quickly rebuilt in 1925, according to park service documents.

The listing recognizes the church's Gothic Revival Style and its high degree of architectural integrity, along with its significance in the community, particularly from 1925 to 1950, according to National Park Service documents.

The church is the oldest continuously operating Episcopal church on the Cumberland Plateau and was the first church in Tracy City, documents state. Before the first church building was constructed, the congregation met in a sawmill shed across from the railroad depot in town where the pulpit and altar were makeshift and the congregation either stood or sat on logs, documents state.

The fire broke out April 8 sometime before 8:30 p.m CDT and Tracy City firefighters were the first to get to the scene to battle the blaze, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

TBI fire and explosives investigators and an accelerant detection canine team responded to the scene, along with agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, authorities said in initial statements on the suspicious fire.

"The initial investigation indicated the fire was deliberately set, and agents investigating the scene are hoping to learn more about who may have been in that area around the time the blaze began," TBI officials said in a statement seeking information in the case.

Investigators are especially interested in a sedan that was seen parked on the Fifth Street side of the church around 8:15 p.m. April 8, TBI officials said.

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Grundy County Sheriff Clint Shrum and TBI spokesperson Susan Niland both said Monday via emails there were no new developments or details available in the investigation.

In the first clean-up effort after the fire, church officials said in some social media posts they could smell smoke and gasoline in the building, but a cleaning company got the building ready for Easter services.

"We're still living with the unknown," Lamborn said, "but feeling much as we did in the aftermath of this; resilient and we're almost seeing this as an opportunity to make the church as secure as possible."

Niland said anyone who has information about the fire at Christ Church Episcopal the evening of April 8 in Tracy City is urged to call 1-800-TBI-FIND or send an email to

Contact Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.