Located in the city of Eureka Springs in Arkansas, Thorncrown Chapel is a Prairie School-style chapel designed to recall the style of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. As one of the most acclaimed buildings of the 20th century, the chapel was the 2006 recipient of the the American Institute of Architects’ 25-Year Award. Thorncrown Chapel was the brainchild of Pine Bluff native and retired schoolteacher Jim Reed, who purchased a plot of land in the Arizona Ozarks in 1971 for the future purpose of building a retirement home.
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Due to its natural beauty, the popularity of the site grew among residents of the area, and Reed began to entertain frequent local visitors seeking views of the Ozarks from the property. These visits inspired Reed to explore the idea of building a chapel as a way to share the site with the community, and as such, he met with E. Fay Jones, a University of Arkansas at Fayetteville professor and protege of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, to discuss design options.
Fay’s inspiration for the chapel’s design was the famed Sainte Chappelle in Paris, which inspired him to refer to his chapel design “Ozark Gothic,” as a reference to the Parisian chapel’s Gothic design elements. His design called for strict adherence to preservation of the site’s natural resources, mandating that no building materials could be used that could not be carried through the woods by personnel rather than machinery. Construction for the project began in March of 1979, but near the midpoint of the project, Reed’s funding nearly ran out, forcing work to come to a halt. Reed reported experiencing a spiritual breakthrough at the time, and shortly thereafter, renewed funding was secured to allow completion of the project by July of 1980.
In 2013, the Southwestern Electric Power Company proposed a powerline project that would have crossed through the chapel area, but a grassroots activism campaign to preserve the chapel’s natural setting, backed by the American Institute of Architects, resulted in the withdrawal of the proposal.
Attractions and Events
Since its opening, the chapel has attracted over six million visitors. It has been recognized as one of the greatest works of American architecture of the 20th century, and its construction helped to propel Jones’ status as one of the top architects of his generation, earning him the 1981 National Honor Award and 1990 Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects. The chapel has been placed on numerous top architectural achievement lists, including a ranking at number four on the AIA’s list of top buildings of the 20th century. In 2006, the chapel was chosen as the recipient of AIA’s 25-Year Award. It was also listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000, one of only a few buildings younger than 50 years old to receive the designation.
Standing at 48 feet tall, the chapel is entirely constructed from organic materials, primarily materials indigenous to the northwestern Arkansas area, including wood sourced from the Ozarks. More than 6,000 square feet of glass was used to create the chapel’s 425 windows, which enclose its diamond-shaped wood and steel trusses. Though it is designed to give the illusion of being an open-air structure, it is entirely enclosed in glass and fully air conditioned. The open-window design of the church incorporates changing natural sunlight into the sanctuary’s appearance, with cross reflections visible at different places throughout the chapel with shifting angles of sunlight. A 100-ton native and colored flagstone floor surrounded by a rock wall furthers the impression of the chapel blending into its natural surroundings.
The chapel is accessible from Highway 62 West, overlooking Eureka Springs and the Ozarks area. Regular church services are held on Sunday mornings between April and October, with special service hours offered in November and December throughout the holiday season. All services last one hour and include a mix of Bible-based teaching and devotional music. In addition to services and congregational events, the chapel is also open year-round as a living history museum available to tour groups. There is no admission fee for tours, although donations to the chapel are encouraged. Tours include a docent-led presentation that shares the story of the chapel’s design and construction and a performance of devotional music by a resident musician. Ample parking space is provided for RVs, buses, and other tour transportation.
In addition to congregation special events, the chapel may be rented for weddings and other private special events. The sanctuary space seats up to 100 guests, and a private changing area allows for wedding party preparation. Minister services and sound and lighting staff may be provided for weddings upon request, and help with locating and securing local musician ensembles is offered.
12968 Highway 62 West, Eureka Springs, AR 72632, Phone: 479-253-7401