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Thorncrown Chapel in Arkansas: An AIA Top-10 20th-Century Building

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, facing north from entrance.

Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, facing north from entrance.

Thorncrown Chapel in Arkansas

Eureka Springs is an inviting town in the state of Arkansas, but the pleasure extends beyond its boundaries. One of the discoveries that my mother and I made while on vacation there a number of years ago was the strikingly beautiful Thorncrown Chapel, which is an AIA top-awarded building for the 20th century.

The discovery of this uniquely designed chapel that sits amidst a wooded area outside the town of Eureka Springs delighted my mother and me when we traveled that way in September of 1995.

Little did we know until visiting the site that the American Institute of Architecture awarded this building a Gold Medal in 1990. It is rated as one of the top ten buildings of the 20th century. It is the number four position in the top ten, and we could see why after visiting it.

Just imagine meditating, resting, worshiping or even getting married here inside of Thorncrown Chapel.

Just imagine meditating, resting, worshiping or even getting married here inside of Thorncrown Chapel.

A school teacher by the name of Jim Reed bought the lush and wooded property intending to build a home there. Many people kept visiting that spot and remarking upon its natural beauty.

Mr. Reed then began thinking that it would be wonderful to be able to share it with more people. Thus began his idea of erecting a chapel on that site that could be opened to every person living nearby as well as travelers to that area of the country.

Thorncrown Chapel

Thorncrown Chapel

He enlisted the help of a top architect by the name of Mr. E. Fay Jones, who had studied under the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Mr. Jones had already established world-renowned credentials of his own and delighted in this project.

Just as his mentor Frank Lloyd Wright would have done, Mr. Jones used native materials of the area in the design and completion of this chapel which blends into the surrounding woods as though it was an intrinsic part of the scenery.

The Thorncrown Chapel rises 48 feet into the air; steel tresses, native woods, stone from the area and much glass was utilized in creating this gem of a chapel. The wooded area just outside the many windows makes one feel as though one is part of the natural scene.

I have always loved nature and a woods surrounded a portion of the property that my grandparents and parents owned in Wisconsin when I was growing up.

My brothers and I often walked in the woods and the softness of the ground underfoot and the quiet sounds muffled by the trees and plants along with the earthy smells are memories I carry inside of me no matter where we have lived since that time. So this wooded setting with this chapel that seems to blend into the surrounding area truly struck me as being extra special. Obviously, other people think the same.

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Prior to visiting Eureka Springs in Arkansas, I had never heard of Thorncrown Chapel. One of the wonderful aspects of travel is getting to know more about different areas of the country or world in which we live. Finding this special chapel was one of the unexpected pleasures of our traveling there.

Thorncrown Chapel is a nondenominational chapel, and everyone is welcome to visit. A minister lives on the grounds and is available to talk to people if they wish. Sunday services are held there. Had we stayed in Eureka Springs on a Sunday I would very much have liked to attend a service just to experience one in that special setting. A donation box is at the back of the chapel. Although the building and grounds were donated, gifts from visitors help to defray maintenance and upkeep of the site.

The use of Thorncrown Chapel for weddings can be arranged and a fee for this availability is charged. I can't imagine a more natural or beautiful setting in which to begin a life of wedded bliss.

The acoustics inside this chapel are great. Music whether that of the wedding march or the voice of a soloist would reverberate off of the glass and other hard surfaces and sound lovely.

My mother and I sat in the seats inside the chapel for a while and simply absorbed the quiet beauty of the woods outside the windows. Being in the middle of a woods, the hustle and bustle of life in a town or a city seems to dissipate like the morning mist rising from the ground.

Life seems to slow down and the hush and quiet of the people respecting the Thorncrown Chapel as a place of worship or meditation adds to the relaxation one feels when being in that atmosphere for a while.

In my opinion, the intricacy of design yet simplicity of elements that have it blending into the surrounding wooded area almost like a translucent mushroom might have grown up in that spot are what make this chapel stand out from the rest.

Until one gets close to it by walking through the woods, one would not even see it from a distance. The trees and plants growing there enshroud it with the natural beauty of God's own hand.

Traditional Hymn of Worship and Adoration

This last video above was arranged by College of the Ozarks student Walker Boldman and performed by the College of the Ozarks Chorale (Dr. Bruce Gerlach, conductor; Marsha Goldsmith accompanist; Walker Boldman, violin). Portions recorded at a live concert, Thorncrown Chapel, Eureka Springs, AR.

Thorncrown Chapel


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods

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