Autumn is in the air. Pumpkins and raspberries are ripening in my garden, the air is cooler, and catalogues already celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving. Off-season prices are about to kick in: it’s almost time for spontaneous getaways. One of my favorite autumn memories is going to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob last year. We went in late October, so the fall colors were just past their peak, gorgeous nevertheless.
Fallingwater is Frank Lloyd Wright‘s genius child, built around a waterfall, which runs seamlessly through it. It was our main destination, but Kentuck Knob, Fallingwater’s younger, simpler sibling, and Ohiopyle State Park were wonderful outposts on our travel. First, the star of the show:
For some reason, I expected Fallingwater to be damp, dark, and unwelcoming. I couldn’t be further from the truth. It blended beautifully with its environment, but it was inside where this came most into focus: stunning Picassos and Riveras framed perfectly in the fleeting light, the sound of water and the woods all around (unfortunately, photography is not usually allowed in the house). We got the $20-advance-reservation-per-person regular tour (you save $3 if you purchase tickets online or reserve in advance), but, for $65 one can enjoy a more in-depth experience: two hours instead of one, and photography–for personal use–is allowed; now that we have seen the space, this seems like a more reasonable sacrifice. Perhaps, next time.
As you float through the self-guided tour, the house and its balconies open up just where you wish they would. Everything, to the smallest detail, is carefully thought out, comfortable, warm, and comforting. Outside, old, melancholy trees welcome you.
The house is somewhat child-unfriendly: children under six are not allowed to the regular tour through the house, and only children over 9 are permitted to the in-depth tour, but friends have enjoyed the journey by taking babysitting duties in the waiting area.
Famished after all the ogling, we headed to Ohiopyle State Park for lunch, virtually next door: there are several restaurants and cafes waiting for you there. The park boasts over 19,000 acres of rugged hills, hugging the Youghiogheny [yaw-ki-gay-nee] River, which bubbles busily around a serene town. Next time, we will allot a morning to the spectacular whitewater boating excursions the river offers (the name “Ohiopyle”, it is believed, derives from an American Indian word “ohiopehhla” for “white, frothy water”).
I loved watching reflections of the early-afternoon light on the stained glass windows of a local church. Today, it is hard to believe that the French and Indian War began someplace around here.
Fortified with lunch, we headed to Kentuck Knob, Frank Lloyd Wright’s lesser-known, more modest creation.
After Fallingwater and as Frank Lloyd Wright’s fame spread, everybody wanted a FLW home. Kentuck Knob was built for Bernardine and I.N. Hagan in the 1950s, a purposefully utilitarian dwelling, a kind of home its architect envisioned every American would enjoy. It is much less grand and darker than Fallingwater. When the house was built, the woods around were just saplings, so the family lost much of the light their home was intended to enhance and complement. Still, the balcony and the many tiny, thoughtful details were enchanting. I thought it was good to see this house after Fallingwater, many of FLW’s more daring experiments, instincts, and beliefs now tempered, distilled. It may not be as exciting as his earlier masterpiece, but Kentuck Knob is a portrait of the Man and His Vision Evolved over 20 years after Fallingwater.
The real gem that sets off Kentuck Knob is the grounds around it: the woods and views are breathtaking, especially, I imagine, if you catch them at the height of their crimson and golden glow. In late October, the hills and the colors were subdued but still beautiful, calming, especially in the evening light.
The Sculpture Meadow, a 10-minute stroll away from the house, is certainly worth a visit. We arrived at the meadow as the grounds were about to close and had the place to ourselves, just as the dusk shadows were settling in. Ray Smith’s Red Army and a panel of the Berlin Wall are not to be missed (another Berlin Wall panel is hidden along a forest path by the house).
We then drove away to our hotel, plotting dinner at the impressive “world fusion” Sargasso restaurant in nearby Morgantown, WV, a sunlit, lovely, bright, and surprising autumn day gloriously accomplished.