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Tour three beautiful homes, including an iconic masterpiece, on a Frank Lloyd Wright road trip to Fallingwater, Kentuck Knob, and Polymath Park in Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania. This road trip is perfect for lovers of architecture, nature, and art, and it’s just a three-and-a-half hour drive from the Northern Virginia and Washington DC area.
Frank Lloyd Wright, once named America’s greatest architect, took inspiration from nature, and beautifully integrated his homes into their natural settings. The Laurel Highlands region of western Pennsylvania includes three excellent examples of Wright’s Usonian homes. The most famous of these, Fallingwater, is a must-visit for fans of Wright’s designs.
Frank Lloyd Wright Road Trip to Fallingwater
Fallingwater is the core of a Frank Lloyd Wright road trip to Laurel Highlands. Smithsonian magazine included Fallingwater on it’s Life List of 28 Places to Visit Before You Die in the category Triumphs of Vision.
Wright’s masterpiece is built over a waterfall in Bear Run, appearing to float above it’s site. Cantilevered terraces hang over the stream and waterfall, reaching toward the surrounding trees. The core of the house is anchored to the bedrock, embedded in the hill on which it’s built. Natural materials and palette further integrate Fallingwater with it’s surroundings.
In the photo above, note the steps which lead to a platform overhanging the stream. Wright wanted the people who lived in his homes to be in tune with, and exposed to nature through his design.
Wright designed Fallingwater as a summer house for the Kaufman family, whose son later trained with Wright. The family owned and enjoyed the home until 1963, when they turned it over to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
Fallingwater is unique in it’s design, and also in it’s contents. It is the only Wright designed house which retains its original furnishings and art.
Fallingwater Tour Tips
Guided house tours cover all the main rooms in the house, including the exterior terraces, and a look at the guest house in back. Photos are allowed outside but not indoors.
It’s a bit of a walk from the Visitor Center to the house, where you’ll encounter stairs, uneven surfaces, and narrow hallways. After the tour you can walk around the grounds so wear comfortable shoes!
Fallingwater Tours are available daily, except Wednesdays, but be sure to purchase tickets in advance. There are several tour options available, including in-depth and sunset tours. The one hour Guided House tour is $30 for adults, $12 for youth (children under 6 not allowed on tour).
Tour Kentuck Knob in Laurel Highlands Pennsylvania
Seven miles south of Fallingwater is Kentuck Knob, another beautiful example of Wright’s Grand Usonian design. Wright was a famous and busy man when he designed Kentuck Knob for I.N. and Bernadine Hagan. He worked from topography maps and photographs rather than a site visit, only visiting once when the foundation was laid.
The one story design is built into the “knob,” the crown of the hill, with a long window-filled terrace opening the interior to the surrounding woods. Wright disliked right angles, and Kentuck Knob is filled with odd angles and hexagonal shapes.
Unlike Fallingwater, Kentuck Knob is privately owned and is the part-time residence of Lord Peter Palumbo. Interior furnishings and details reflect both the current and original owners.
Mrs Hagan, who worked with the builder throughout construction, asked for several modification to Wright’s original design. For example, she wanted a larger kitchen with cork flooring and stainless steel countertops, rather than red rubber tiles and red plastic counters. The result is a less strict, but perhaps more livable, design.
Kentuck Knob Tour Tips
Kentuck Knob Guided House tours cover all of the rooms on the main floor and last about 40 minutes. In-depth tours add additional details and a visit to the basement and art studio. Guided House tour tickets are $25 for adults, $18 for youth 6 to 18 (under 6 not permitted).
After your tour, be sure to follow the path to a spectacular view of the Youghiogheny River Gorge. If you’re up for a walk, you can return to the Visitor Center on the Woodland Walk. The trail passes several interesting sculptures as it descends (sometimes steeply) through the woods.
Back at the Visitor Center, stop in the Cafe and shop for ice cream, snacks, and Wright-inspired gifts. The Hagan ice cream is delicious, and it’s the same brand owned by the Hagan family for whom the house was built. We were fortunate to met Lord Palumbo, who was working in the cafe when we visited.
Kentuck Knob also hosts special dinner events during the warmer months, some of which feature a talk by the home’s current owner. Check their Facebook page for details.
Tour, Dine, and Stay at Polymath Park
Polymath Park would make an ideal overnight stop on a Frank Lloyd Wright road trip. It is one of only 6 Wright-designed homes which can be rented for an overnight stay. Polymath Park actually includes three homes, all available for tours and lodging.
The Wright-designed Duncan House was saved and moved to Polymath Park from it’s original location in Illinois. There it joined the Balter and Blum houses, designed by Wright’s apprentice Peter Berndston. The highly-rated Treetops Restaurant is also located within the park. It offers lunch and dinner indoors or on a deck surrounded by woods.
Polymath Park tours are available daily except Wednesdays, March through December. Reserve tickets on the Fallingwater website. Duncan House tours are $24 for adults; $17 for youth 6 to 12. Other tour options include all three houses or combine meals and house tours.
If time and budget allow, rent one of the three houses for an overnight stay on your Frank Lloyd Wright road trip. What a perfect way to connect with the nature and architecture that inspired your journey.
Frank Lloyd Wright Road Trip Tips
Fallingwater is a three-and-a-half hour drive from Fairfax or Washington DC, so consider spending a night or two in the area. You’ll find a lot to do on a Laurel Highlands getaway with plenty of gorgeous nature and unique experiences to enjoy.
Fallingwater is in Mill Run, Pennsylvania and Kentuck Knob is seven miles away in Ohiopyle. Polymath Park is located in Acme, about a 40 minute drive from Fallingwater. If you time your tickets carefully, you could try to tour all three homes in one day. For a more relaxed and enjoyable experience, break your tours up and spend more time exploring the grounds at each site.
Virginia and DC residents can take a Frank Lloyd Wright road trip closer to home with a visit to the Pope-Leighey House in Alexandria. A more modest Usonian design, the home captures Wright’s vision for middle-class life in tune with nature.
Have you taken a Frank Lloyd Wright road trip to tour these or other sites? Please share your tips and advice in the comments below.