An Autumn Wonderland: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, Kentuck Knob, and Ohiopyle State Park

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. We went in late October, so the fall colors were just past their peak, gorgeous nevertheless.

Pennsylvania Farm, in post-golden leaves in October

Fallingwater sign -- history, explained Fallingwater is Frank Lloyd Wright‘s genius child. The house is built over a waterfall and framed by a forest. 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:

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, unexpectedly enchanting

Truth be told, 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 $25-advance-reservation-per-person regular tour (you save $2 if you purchase tickets online or reserve in advance), but, for $72 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.

Glorious tree in Pennsylvania

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”).

Ohiopyle State Park's Youghiogheny River

Strolling through Ohiopyle State Park

Ohiopyle State Park bridge

Ohiopyle State Park, train running through the autumn-swept hills

The railroads reached Ohiopyle in 1781. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Western Maryland Railroad had stations in Ohiopyle. Once upon a time, for $1, one could ride from Ohiopyle to Pittsburgh and back.

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 (and George Washington’s first battle) began someplace around here.

Afternoon light in Ohiopyle State Park

Fortified with lunch, we headed to Kentuck Knob, Frank Lloyd Wright’s lesser-known, more modest creation.

Antique bird houses near Kentuck Knob, Fallingwater's much younger, simpler sibling

Antique bird houses near Kentuck Knob

Almost at Kentuck Knob, Fallingwater's much younger, simpler sibling

Our first view of Kentuck Knob

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.

Kentuck Knob is one of 16 houses still bearing Frank Lloyd Wright's signature

Kentuck Knob is one of 16 houses bearing Frank Lloyd Wright’s signature

Kentuck Knob corners Kentuck Knob balconyThe 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.

Views around Kentuck Knob--must have been amazing in mid-October

Views around Kentuck Knob–must have been even more breathtaking just a week before

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. Don’t miss Ray Smith’s Red Army and a panel of the Berlin Wall (another Berlin Wall panel is hidden along a forest path by the house).

Red Army by Ray Smith (at Sculpture Meadow by Kentuck Knob)

Red Army by Ray Smith (at Sculpture Meadow by Kentuck Knob)

Visually satiated, we headed back to the hotel, plotting dinner at the impressive “world fusion” Sargasso restaurant in nearby Morgantown, WV, a sunlit, bright, and surprising autumn day gloriously accomplished.

Grounds around Kentuck Knob Read on:

5 thoughts on “An Autumn Wonderland: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, Kentuck Knob, and Ohiopyle State Park

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