Along Highway 62 on the way to Eureka Springs, Arkansas I found one of the most amazing stops of my life, when we stopped to view the Thorncrown Chapel. This beautiful glass chapel is an architectural wonder set in the Ozark woodland. The chapel contains 425 windows and over 6,000 square feet of glass. The floor of the chapel is native stone and colored flagstone and it rises from the forest floor with an astounding beauty that blends right into the woodland.
The chapel officially opened in 1980, and since then over six million people have visited. The chapel was designed by renowned architect E. Fay Jones, who was a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. The website shares, “Thorncrown has won numerous architectural awards such as the American Institute of Architects’ Design of the Year Award for 1981 and AIA’s prestigious 25 Year Award. Recently, members of the American Institute of Architects placed Thorncrown Chapel fourth on its list of the top buildings of the twentieth century.”
While the architectural wonder of the chapel is without dispute, to me, the biggest story is how this chapel came about and the affect it had on the man who built it. Jim Reed was originally from Arkansas and he says in his story that he grew up in a very strict household and while he went to church in his childhood he was disillusioned. Later in life he was always looking and seeking. Then when he found God he said he wanted to be open to him and this chapel is the result. The chapel has been referred to as “One of the finest religious spaces of all time.”
As an adult, Jim lived in California and was a teacher. He and his wife bought 25 acres outside of Eureka Springs to build a retirement home. The guide who told the story at the chapel is Jim Reed’s daughter-in-law and she said, “He noticed people stop here for the wide drive. They would eat, etc. and he would have to clean it up.”
While at first he thought about putting up a fence, he later decided to build something inspirational where they could sit and enjoy nature and maybe this would inspire them to pick up. At first his wife would not agree, but when Jim was insistent, she said, “See if you can find an architect” and that is when E. Fay Jones came into the picture.
”In 1979 though, they ran out of money and Jim went to the banks and they said no and friends said no,” the guide explained. Finally just before Jim was ready to give up, he came to the half completed chapel one last time and got on his knees on the stone.
Surrounded by God’s love, Jim Reed came out of the chapel a changed man. Three weeks later, a low-interest loan came in from a woman in Illinois.
Today, the chapel is an inspiring piece of beauty, but also a place where God moves those that come to find sanctuary and peace in the space that Jim built.
If you get a chance stop by Thorncrown Chapel and soak it all in. Call 479-253-7401 or log onto www.throncrown.com for details. The chapel is open April through November from 9:00 a.m. Until 5:00 p.m. and while open on weekends, occasionally closes as early as 2:15 for special events. During March and December they are open from 11:00 am until 4:00 p.m and closed during January and February except for weddings and special events. They do hold Sunday services April – October at 11:00 a.m. This is a nondenominational chapel and all people are welcome.