For a destination that is sheer inspiration, you cannot go wrong to head to Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Created by E. Fay Jones, one of the best known figures in twentieth century architecture, Thorncrown Chapel offers the visitor a sense of being both indoors and out, enclosed and open, at one and the same time.
History of Thorncrown Chapel
The Chapel was commissioned by James Reed and completed in 1980, on land that he had purchased a decade before to serve as a retirement home location. The views there were remarkable, people came to see them, and Jim Reed decided to make the land that he loved even more welcoming by creating this architectural destination of distinction. It has a verticality that echoes the wooded glade that surrounds it, as if some of the nearby trees offered their trunks and branches to form the chapel’s structure. The design is fresh and strong, and offers echoes of the great long naves of Gothic cathedrals. The scale of the space is utterly human; and with the expanses of glass, it seems larger than it is. The Chapel does not attempt to intimidate, but instead to elevate the human spirit. It becomes a feature in the larger landscape of the Ozarks, and harmonizes rather than competes with the natural beauty all around.
Fay Jones was influenced in his career in architecture by an association with Frank Lloyd Wright, and while there are not specific elements of Thorncrown Chapel that remind the visitor specifically of the works by that elder statesmen of American architects, the organic intent of the Chapel comes from concepts Jones appreciated in Wright, made his own, and then passed on, not only in his work but in his many years of teaching architecture at the University of Arkansas.
Visit Thorncrown Chapel
Thorncrown Chapel is open daily from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. It is located on Highway 62 West three miles outside of Eureka Springs. There is no admission fee, but donations are accepted.
Thorncrown Chapel is the jewel of the Eureka Springs area, but by no means the only sight worth visiting. The entire city of Eureka Springs was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. Nicknamed the “Little Switzerland of the Ozarks”, it evokes that era between its founding in 1879 through the early 1900s, when the mineral springs made the city a popular destination. The lure has never left, and you will enjoy exploring the only-in-Eureka Springs buildings, springs, and views. In the city’s heyday, the wealthiest residents clamored to build their homes as close to the springs as possible, making the core of the city a living history museum today. Eureka Springs offers all of the nostalgia and charm of theme park Main Streets, but with the plus of being a living community. Take a Trams Tour on an open trolley, or simply stroll about to see some of the sights at a leisurely pace, shop at the scores of boutiques and have a meal at one of the many restaurants. Keep in mind the city is built on hills so the sidewalks are never flat.
What to Do Nearby
Stay nearby at vintage hotels including The Palace Hotel & Bath House Spa, consistently ranked high by guests, with its large well appointed suites; The New Orleans Hotel & Spa, from 1892; or The Grand Central Hotel, built in 1883, for a real taste of the bygone era that put Eureka Springs on the map, with its downtown location and Victorian décor. Other historic hotels include The Basin Park Hotel, built in 1905, and The Crescent Hotel, dating to 1886, the “Grand Lady of The Ozarks,” said to be the most haunted hotel in America. Be sure to read about each before you decide on an historic hotel. For those seeking more modern accommodations, Trails Inn, Pointe West Resort, The Lodge, both Best Westerns and Edelweiss Lodge are all popular accommodations that get good reviews from most visitors. For an out of the ordinary lodging choice, visit the Oak Crest Cottages and Treehouses, where you can really dig into a rock cottage or get above it all in a tree house room.
Attractive restaurants in the area include: The Local Flavor Café, with a wide range of entrées and incredible desserts such as pecan pie and chocolate crème brulee ; The Simply Scrumptious Tea Room and Emporium, a curio shop with dining room, for paninis, salads, and other lunch selections along with tea; and Café Amore, famous for its pizza but also a notable choice for everything from shrimp cocktail to lasagna.
An Ideal Road Trip Destination
The drive to Eureka Springs is lovely on any of the routes from Bentonville, Berryville, or Branson. You will not want to miss these other extraordinary places in and around Eureka Springs, which can be visited by those who prefer the scenic route: The Eureka Springs and North Arkansas Rail Road, offers a nostalgic 4 1/2 mile ride through the hills of the Ozarks. Blue Spring Heritage Center where the landscape is serene and lovely amid the history of the Spring where you can dip your toes in the cool water. The Ozark Mountains Zipline offers the highest and longest zip line adventure in the state of Arkansas. A short walk from The Crescent Hotel is St. Elizabeth’s of Hungary Catholic Church, a small gem of lovely architecture and reverent space. The vestibule has religious art and there is a gift shop in the basement. The gardens and building are memorable. Lake Leatherwood is a manmade lake held back by the largest hand cut stone dam in the world. Eureka Springs also offers the “Largest Attended Outdoor Drama in America”, the Great Passion Play, and the monumental statue of Christ of the Ozarks.