The tree house in Crossville, Tennessee
Try to imagine a conversation that goes a little bit along these lines.
“Do you want me to do a really cool thing for you?”
“Ummm… well, you could go to church and pray or something.”
“No, that’s not enough. I want to do something massive. Can I build you a huge monument?”
“Well… I’m kind of just happy with peace and goodwill amongst men so…”
“Nah, that stuff’s boring. I’ve got a better idea. I’m going to build you the biggest tree house in the world!”
“There’s not really anything in The Bible about me needing a tree house so perhaps that goodwill thing could…”
“That’s fine, I’ll build it anyway. Thanks God. Nice chatting!”
In 2004, eleven years after this conversation may or may not have happened, minister Horace Burgess finished his project and his fulfilled his promise to a deity.
With hard work, faith and (if you believe him) some divine intervention, he had indeed constructed the world’s biggest tree house. And it’s all in honour of God.
The land he used for his construction is at the end of a lane in the small Tennessee town of Crossville. It seemed an apt name, as did the town’s main street of Genesis Road.
Horace started it as a personal project but these days he lets people climb the tree house and we thought it was worth a trip to see it. We were not disappointed.
The structure rises up almost forty metres in the air, getting closer to Heaven than any other building in the area.
There are no official statistics for the size of it because it was built rather haphazardly – and you only have to walk inside to realise that it would be impossible to map.
There are about seven stories throughout the tree house (keep in mind, this did take eleven years to build). Small spiral staircases open out into large cavernous rooms – one of them is a full-size chapel with an altar and pews.
There are smaller rooms that connect to balconies, which in turn connect to more staircases that gradually lead you higher.
At the very top is a bell tower, accessible by a small (and very dangerous) ladder.
It took me at least twenty minutes to get to the top… partly because I kept getting lost in the maze and partly because I had to keep stopping to stare in awe at each revelation.
The minister and his tree house
Horace (who was ordained as a minister during the construction of the tree house) made the Tennessee edifice as his tribute to God. But over the years it has been used by thousands of people to make their own tributes.
Handwritten notes cover almost every single surface within the building. There are simple messages of prayer, epitaphs to lost loved ones, and dedications of thanks.
It is a living and breathing cathedral of the most organic type.
From the bell tower at the top of the tree house you can see the huge lawn with grass planted into the shape of the word ‘Jesus’ and the American flag. You can also see the dozen or so cars that are parked at the entrance.
Although this place is in the middle of nowhere, quite a few visitors stop in to see the creation.
With a huge swing hanging from one of the top storeys, it’s a playground for children and adults alike.
It’s hard to know whether they come to worship or to see the work of the worshipper – either way no one leaves unimpressed.
The power of faith has much strength.