About two hours east of Nashville, in Crossville, there’s a giant treehouse built by a minister who says God told him as long as he kept adding to the structure, he’d never run out of material. A few years ago the Fire Marshall ordered the structure to be closed to the public, as it did not meet fire codes. So now it sits abandoned.
I’m a sucker for rural places with bizarre backstories (like the Mindfield, for example), so when I saw this thing pop up in my Instagram feed as someone I follow visited it, I knew I had to go see for myself.
I went solo, which made for an interesting experience as I had no one there to crack jokes with to make me feel less creeped out. A family was leaving as I pulled up and I presumably had the place all to myself. There were times I doubted that, though, as the building swayed and creaked and made strange noises all around. Shuffling, knocking, scraping, sliding. I assume there are plenty of animals that call the treehouse home, and it occurred to me that if one of them was a crazed raccoon, I’d be in for a fight.
One of the stranger experiences of climbing in the treehouse was looking down and seeing the floor below through the widely spaced floor boards. Several times I felt my stomach jump up to my throat as I thought about how I was three, four, five floors up on wooden boards that were constructed by a man with no blueprints and just a calling from God to build, build, build.
The chapel is the most impressive room in the place. It’s got an interesting mix of solemnity and whimsy (there’s a basketball goal on the wall, opposite the pulpit) and it’s built in amphitheater style, with slats of pews rising on all sides, several floors high around where the preacher would stand at the hand-carved altar. There were photos, paintings and carvings still in place. There’s a makeshift skylight formed by light corrugated fiberglass. Visitors from over the years had carved and painted what I thought was remarkably stupid graffiti on every surface.
There’s a room on one of the upper floors full of carved figures that look like Native Americans and Jesus. They’re all sort of hanging out around the perimeter of the room, and the afternoon sun streams in through gaps in the wooden walls to illuminate their faces.
I climbed up the bell tower as far as the stairs would let me but stopped short of climbing up the ladder into the bell tower itself. I could see through the floorboards above some giant metal canisters that the internet tells me used to be strung up to clang like bells. There’s a bench in the bell tower and windows all around. The view is beautiful and serene, even though you can hear the hum of I-40 nearby.
Untitled from Lindsey Turner on Vimeo.
I stepped so gingerly and deliberately through the whole house that the next day I was sore. I kept thinking I’d find a loose board and crash through the tree, but the place did feel sturdy, I have to say. I can’t imagine a whole gaggle of kids galloping around, playing basketball in the chapel up in the tree and their parents not having cardiac events, but the minister had faith that his treehouse could sustain his flock so who am I to argue?
Once upon a time, Flickr would let you embed slideshows, but it looks like the new Flickr (which, OK, is a few years old now) doesn’t allow it. So if you want to see more, and I hope you do, click here to view the album and click the slideshow icon in the top right corner.
Or better yet, just go see it for yourself. It’s a fantastic bit of folk art and truly an architectural masterpiece.