Passing the books: Hillspeak a mecca for book lovers

Thursday, November 22, 2012
Abe Strohmeier of Eureka Springs combs the OPA shelves for books.

It's about a mile south of Eureka Springs to the turn onto County Road 102. Then it's less than a mile to the signpost. Silhouetted against the sky at the end of the driveway are twin red barns with Dutch eaves. But it is what's under the eaves that makes the barns a destination for book lovers.

"It's one of the best kept secret in Eureka Springs," the Rev. John Burton said, "and it's been here for 50 years."

Burton is talking about Hillspeak, a former dairy farm that is home to The Anglican Digest, a quarterly review that goes to readers in the United States and Canada. The barns also house the Anglican Book Store, where new and bargain books are offered for sale, and a library used by religious scholars. But most of the floor space is taken up with Operation Pass Along -- thousands of books free for the taking.

"All we ask is that you come and take books," Burton said. "We have boxes you can tote them out in."

OPA recycles books from church and private libraries that need a new home, Burton said, with the only stipulation being that they have a spiritual subject matter. In any given month, a thousand books come in and go out, he said. Incoming titles are entered into a database. If one matches a request, it is shipped out, the recipient only paying postage. The books are sent free to seed new church libraries and to missions in Ghana. The majority go onto the POA shelves, however, which hold 15, 000 to 20,000 volumes, according to Linda Crane, Hillspeak secretary.

"It covers about every faith," she said of the collection. "We try to keep a good variety."

The shelves are also accessible to visitors -- all kinds of people come in, Burton said, not just Anglicans. Students from a Bible school in Missouri come through regularly, he said. Week before last, Abe Strohmeier of Eureka Springs, who attends Calvary Chapel, was combing the shelves for books on archeology and biblical prophecy.

"Not a lot of people know about this place," Strohmeier said. "I was trying to start a Christian library when a friend told me about it. I spent four hours here one time."

Formerly Silver Cloud Ranch, Hillspeak was founded in 1960 by the Rev. Howard Lane Foland. Foland had started the Anglican Book Club in his garage in Nevada, Mo., in 1953. After moving to the farm, he formed the Society for Promoting and Encouraging Arts and Knowledge (the SPEAK of Hillspeak). The grounds are open to visitors, who are welcome to walk the trails and take in the views across the King River valley to the east and Eureka Springs to the north. Foland envisioned Hillspeak as a campus where people would come and write or paint, Burton said, but it never developed.

"It's an interesting place, and unique to the United States," he said.

Burton, who was ordained in 2001, lives on the grounds, where the farmhouse and three other buildings provide housing for scholars using the 15,000 volume Howard Lane Foland Library, located in a barn loft. A small chapel, dedicated to St. Mark, is open 24 hours.

"Some of the tourist buses used to come here," Burton said, "but it's not a big tourist attraction."

But for people who like books, it's a goldmine. OPA even has a children's section, where Becky Strohmeier, Abe's spouse, gets board books for their 2-year-old daughter, Ambria. The couple have also gotten devotional guides for couples, and Abe uses OPA as a resource for a book he is writing.

"I can donate or find books on any given subject," he said.

The Anglican Digest, which has 45,000 readers in the United States and Canada, also covers a wide range of topics -- articles in the Autumn 2012 issue included one on Chinese and Egyptian roots of harvest celebrations. Book reviews make up a section, a remnant of The Anglican Book Club, which ended in 2008 when membership dropped below 1,000. The Digest's news section included the Dalai Lama's announcement that he plans to use his Templeton Prize money to promote the collaboration of science and spirituality. As managing editor, Burton, a retired aerospace engineer from Texas, writes the "Hillspeaking" column, the successor to Walt Swindell's column, "Atop Grindstone Mountain."

"People like to know what's going on up here on the mountain," Burton said.

People who live within driving distance, however, can come and see for themselves -- and pick up some books in the bargain.

Operation Pass Along is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and other times by appointment. Hillspeak is located at 805 Country Rd 102, Eureka Springs. For more information, go to

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  • I've been looking for Abe for years, glad to see he's doing well. Is there anyway for him to contact me, or someone to spread the word?

    -- Posted by HannahSky90 on Thu, Feb 7, 2013, at 11:35 PM
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