How a 97-Foot Treehouse Was Built — and How It Was Destroyed

Horace Burgess spent 12 years building a treehouse like no other

Massive treehouse
This treehouse, built by Horace Burgess, stood 97 feet tall.
1779Days/Creative Commons

Treehouses are, by and large, modest structures. They’re generally designed for children, for one thing — and you don’t need a massive structure for something that’s going to be used by a few kids. But there’s something oddly compelling about treehouses that strive for something larger — the megafauna of the treehouse world, if you like.

Marshalltown, Iowa is home to The Big Treehouse, comprised of 12 levels and towering 55 feet off the ground. It’s literally no small accomplishment. But it’s not the only gigantic treehouse to be found in the United States, though another building fitting that description burned to the ground in Crossville, Tennessee in October 2019.

That would be a treehouse built by Horace Burgess which stood 97 feet tall. Writing at Atlas Obscura, Matthew Taub has the story of how this unique building came to be — and the legacy it has left behind. Burgess started work on the one in question in 1993. Burgess himself is a pastor, and built several treehouses over the course of several years — including one that he felt commanded to raze in the 1980s, as part of a larger effort to change his life.

As Taub writes, Burgess decided to use his penchant for building treehouses as a means of bringing people closer together:

… [Burgess] knew he could do it well, and he understood that if he could share it with others it could serve as a positive force in the community rather than as a destructive force in his private life.

Burgess worked on the treehouse from 1993 until 2005, using materials recycled from other building sites. It opened to the public in 2005, and during the years when it was open, it hosted 23 weddings.

Local authorities shut the treehouse down in 2012, and Burgess sold the property not long after that — bringing a kind of closure to the space until the fire made that closure absolute. But Burgess’s work remains fondly remembered by those who visited it, and the admirers of the architecture and ambition that Burgess utilized to create this work in the first place.

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