HIDDEN TREASURES OF NWA: Thorncrown Chapel In Eureka Springs

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From restaurants and cave hotels, to churches and temples, Northwest Arkansas is home to some of the finest gems in the Natural State. 

One place in Eureka Springs has stood the test of time. And its creation, came together by divine intervention.

It’s an experience, that leaves visitors speechless.

Doug Reed has been the Pastor of Thorncrown Chapel for 34 years. He says, “It’s seems to have an effect on people. People feel something in there and they can’t put it into words.” 

Even the non-believers, see the light. “One of the greatest compliments we ever had was from an atheist. And he said that, ‘I don’t believe in God, unless I’m in Thorncrown Chapel.'” says Reed.

Just outside of Eureka Springs, on a small rock, sits a church. Thorncrown Chapel. For nearly 40 years, visitors have made the pilgrimage to this architectural marvel. Whether it’s for the peaceful surroundings, finding solace or just saying you visited, this sanctuary, is one-of-a kind. Doug Reed says the chapel was a dream from his father.

In 1978, Jim Reed, a retired schoolteacher, had a vision. To build a chapel, in the middle of nowhere. Neighbors, friends and even his wife, thought he was a bit unbalanced. Reed said, “He wanted it to be part of the environment, so he said ‘lets build it all out of wood.’ 48 foot tall, all-glass structure like this has never been built before, so everyone thought he was a little crazy.”

Reed turned “crazy”, into motivation. With the help of renowned architect and former Fayetteville native, E. Fay Jones, construction of the chapel started in 1979. But halfway through the project, the money ran dry. Reed contacted banks and friends for financial support, all said no. It put reed between a rock and a hard place. So in one last ditch effort, he made one more call. Reed spoke on his father’s religious experience at this moment, saying, “My dad had prayed before, but he’d never got down on his knees to pray in his whole life. And he fell down on his knees at the half finished steps inside the chapel and began to weep. He wasn’t a crier at all. And he began to feel a peace in his heart. It’s been said that sometimes you reach the end of yourself and reach the beginning of God. And I think that’s exactly what happened to my dad and he found something beyond himself.”

A week later, the elder Reed received a letter from a woman in Illinois. Inside, was a loan. Just enough money to complete the project. “The chapel was finished in the summer of 1980 and in the 1981 it won the National Honor Award. Pretty soon, it was on the cover of architecture magazines and my dad went from being a fool to a genius.” says Pastor Reed.

The Chapel has seen seven million visitors in almost four decades of business. “We’ve had all types of folks. We’ve had everything from Amish to Hells Angels. 

It’s a church, that’s bridging a gap. Pastor Reed says “The thing about this place is that it seems to be able to connect, not just a certain type of person, not just a religious person, but all sorts of people.”

Just like bringing together individuals at the sanctuary, making Thorncrown Chapel a reality, was perhaps, divine intervention. Pastor Reed says, “It’s nature, the location, the design and I think that the spirit of the place and what it means and what happened to my dad…it was like everything coming together.”

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