There’s no shortage of gorgeous chapels around the country, but few are as breathtaking as Arkansas’ Thorncrown Chapel.
Located just outside of Eureka Springs, Ark., the chapel has been visited by about 6 million people. Thorncrown, which contains 425 windows and 6,000 square feet of glass, was completed in 1980. In 2000, the chapel was added to the National Register of Historic Places, a rare honor for a 20-year-old building. The same year, the American Institute of Architects named Thorncrown the fourth best building of the 20th century.
So how did this spiritual center that launched a thousand dream weddings end up in the middle of the Ozark woods? It’s all thanks to a quiet Arkansas man with an uncanny talent for blending nature and architecture.
The Man Behind the Glass
E. Fay Jones grew up in El Dorado, Ark., where he spent his childhood building tree houses and drawing. From a young age, he was enamored by world famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. After seeing a 1938 short film on the Wright-designed Johnson’s Wax headquarters in Racine, Wis., Jones set out to design his own buildings.
In 1950, Jones earned a degree in architecture from the University of Arkansas. During a chance meeting at an architectural convention in Houston, he met his hero Frank Lloyd Wright and began working as his apprentice in 1953. Jones is the only Wright apprentice to receive an American Institute of Architects Gold Medal.
In the late ’70s, Jones was commissioned by retired school teacher Jim Reed to create the chapel that would become Thorncrown. Reed, a visionary in his own right, originally bought the property as a location for his retirement home. Awestruck by the Ozark hills, Reed decided everyone should have a chance to take in the beauty of the land. He proposed that Jones build him a glass chapel in the woods. Inspired by the 13th Century Ste. Chappelle in Paris, Jones referred to his creation as “Ozark Gothic.”
The Natural State of Things
If you’ve already booked your flight to Eureka Springs, you should know there’s more to add to your Arkansas road trip itinerary. The “Natural State” boasts three more glass chapels and each one has a connection to E. Fay Jones.
Just an hour from Eureka Springs is the Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel in Bella Vista, Ark. Designed by Jones and Maurice Jennings, the chapel stands 50 feet high and is made up of 31 tons of steel.
The third chapel is the Anthony Chapel, designed by Jones’ collaborator Maurice Jennings. Located at the University of Arkansas, the structure stands an impressive six stories tall.
Now that you’re in Arkansas explorer mode, why not add a few more sights to your road trip? Eureka Springs is also home to Christ of the Ozarks, a 67-foot messiah elevated at an altitude of 1,500 feet. From there, it’s a four hour drive to Hot Springs, Ark. to visit Hot Springs National Park.
There’s plenty to see and do. Just don’t forget to take a moment (or several) to give thanks for the beauty around you.
Thorncrown Chapel is open April through November from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and March and December from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.