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Celebrate the Ozarks: Thorn Crown Chapel is tribute to faith and vision

By Steve Grant, sgrant@ky3.com
Published On: Oct 01 2013 08:05:58 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 03 2013 03:24:31 PM CDT

This chapel in the woods just west of Eureka Springs is now honored for its unique design. It almost didn't get built.

EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. -

One of America's architectural wonders opened here 33 years ago, and at first hardly anyone came to see it.  Before long, however, word spread about the beautiful new sanctuary of glass and wood.  Since then, 6 million people have sought out the beautiful Thorn Crown Chapel.

Thorn Crown Chapel is a tribute to one man's faith and another man's vision.  In the late 1970s, Jim Reed of Arkansas wanted to build a place of peace.

"It was dad's dream,” said his son, the Rev. Doug Reed.  “And he thought, ‘Let’s build a little chapel here in the woods.’ And he thought, ‘Why not make it all glass because of the beauty of the setting here.’”

Architect Fay Jones, a professor at the University of Arkansas, designed Thorn Crown Chapel.  Jim Reed wasn’t impressed when he saw Jones’ plans,

“He didn't like it.  The chapel on paper is hard to visualize. It looked strange to him.  He rejected it,” said his son.

Then, however, he showed design plans around his hometown.  He found people liked it.

"He went back to Fay and said, ‘Okay, let's build it,” said Reed.

Thorn Crown opened in 1980.  Only a few people visited at first. 

“He said, ‘This is such a wonderful little project; too bad no one is going to see it,’” said Reed.

Doug Reed recalls the first time he stepped inside.

"I walked down here and saw it for the first time and I was just moved to tears.  Such a stunning impact, it was far beyond what I ever imagined what it would be."

Today, Thorn Crown Chapel stands as an architectural and inspirational treasure.

"They find a connection to the divine here.  Even people who are not religious find that here.  And I think that's one of the most special things about Thorn Crown.  People feel a presence, something special here and, of all the things I hear, that is the most important to me."

Recently, the A.I.A., the American Institute of Architecture, placed Thorn Crown Chapel as one of the top most important building designs of the 20th Century.  It's just west of Eureka Springs on winding U.S. 62.