Tag Archive | Laurel Highlands

Circus Trip 2018: Pennsylvania Covered Bridges

Day 40, Friday, August 24, 2018

Somerset County, Pennsylvania

I love covered bridges – they are so beautiful!  So I was excited to learn that Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands area is home 10 of them.  After visiting Polymath Park, I went to visit a couple that were near my campground.

The Barronvale Bridge is the first; it is the longest bridge in Somerset County, spanning 162 feet, 3 inches over Laurel Hill Creek, and is 10 feet, 3 inches wide.  There is widely varying information out there on its construction date.  The sign on the bridge says 1830. Other sources say 1845 and 1846.  It was reconstructed in 1902 (however one source says 1907).  It is a double span Burr Truss bridge, which is apparently rare in the covered bridge world.  Near the bridge is this home, which I know nothing about, but it looks old so I liked it!

I also visited the King’s Bridge, another Burr Truss bridge, nearby.  The sign says it was built in 1802, and rebuilt in 1906 and 2008.  Of course, sources on the internet vary on these dates as well, arguing that a 1802 date would put it as the earliest known covered bridge in the area, and they believe it was built later.  After the road was bypassed in the 1930s, it was used as a livestock barn for a period of time before being restored.  No matter when it was built or rebuilt, it is still a beautiful bridge and worth a visit.

It was a nice drive through pretty country roads to find these beauties, and a nice way to wrap up a day of sightseeing.

Do you love seeing covered bridges?

Circus Trip 2018: Polymath Park

Day 40, Friday, August 24, 2018

Acme, Pennsylvania

When I toured Fallingwater, I had the option to add on a second tour of Frank Lloyd Wright homes nearby; Polymath Park.  I hadn’t heard of it, but why not?

Later in life, Wright was having a hard time making the rent, so to speak.  His homes had always been elaborate, time-consuming and costly, plus he was strict with his demands for how his clients could decorate their finished homes, so as a result he never really had all that many commissions.  He decided to design a series of “Usonian” homes; pre-fabricated kit built homes that could give people the prestige of owning a Frank Lloyd Wright home, without the cost of commissioning a project.  And Wright would get a much needed influx of cash.

It is also important to know that Frank Lloyd Wright took on architecture students, teaching them in his image, and ensuring that there were an increasing number of Frank Lloyd Wright “style” homes out in the world.  Polymath Park is the new name for what was originally a retreat for two wealthy Pittsburgh Jewish families, Balter and Baum.  Apprarently, even in the 1960s, the gentleman’s clubs and hunting and fishing camps of the area were not welcoming to Jews, so Balter and Baum decided to create their own.  They commissioned Peter Berndtsen, one of Wright’s more successful students, to build them each a home in the woods of the Laurel Highlands near Fallingwater.

In the early 2000s, the current owners purchased the Balter and Baum homes with the intention of saving them from redevelopment.  They decided they wanted to open them to the public.  This labor of love led to the purchase and move of two additional Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian homes.  One was moved from Illinois, and the other from Minnesota.  And then there were four.  The owners rent these homes out as overnight lodging, and run a restaurant out of their nearby home.  They also give tours, showing the homes, and giving a bit about the history of Frank Lloyd Wright, his students, and these unique pre-fab homes.

Each tour takes you to three of the homes; when I visited the fourth home had been purchased but not yet moved to the site.  You are treated to a blast from the past, with the characteristic Wright style design, but with more utility and cheaper materials.  It was interesting to be surrounded by so much mid-century modern!

Sadly though, as interesting as the history was, I wouldn’t recommend this tour. You only get to go inside one home, and it’s one that they rent out to overnight guests (apparently that’s part of the agreement to stay there – they do the tour right around you).  Awkward!  I felt that was a bit of a bait and switch, because they aren’t clear in their advertising that this is largely an exterior only tour.  You aren’t allowed to take photos inside the home you get to go inside either!  The other two homes were “exterior only” views – brief stops, without even a walk around the outside.  For me, it wasn’t worth it for the price of the tour.  There are enough Frank Lloyd Wright homes that I could look at the outside of for free.

You win some, you lose some!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Fallingwater

Day 39 & 40, Thursday & Friday, August 23 & 24, 2018

Rockwood & Mill Run, Pennsylvania

Thursday was a rest day.  It had been a little while since I had a day just spent at the campground, but there was another reason too.  My former employer was being sued, and I was being deposed as a witness in the lawsuit.  I have to admit that it was an odd experience, laying in my car bed with my laptop at the ready (part of the deposition was answering questions about exhibit documents), answering the attorney’s questions under oath.  It is not an unheard of experience in my career, but it was the first time I’ve ever been deposed while hanging out in a campground in Pennsylvania!  I’m just glad I didn’t have to fly home for the deposition!

The rest of the day, I relaxed, took some walks, and wrote.  The Hickory Hollow Campground in Rockwood was mostly set up for RVs, and I had the tent area all to myself!  Unfortunately, the Laurel Highlands area of Pennsylvania was quite cool during my visit, so I didn’t have an opportunity to check out the pool at the campground.

 

Friday I was back at it, and ready to see a highlight of the trip.  The architect Frank Lloyd Wright is fascinating to me.  I have enjoyed visiting the homes he has designed and seeing how he incorporates nature (and styles representing nature) into his designs.  So it is no surprise that I was excited to visit Fallingwater!

Fallingwater is considered to be Wright’s masterpiece.  It was built in 1935 for Liliane Kaufmann and her husband Edgar, owners of the Pittsburgh based Kaufmann’s department store.  The Pittsburgh wealthy had long been building homes in the Laurel Highlands area outside of Pittsburgh, and the Kaufmanns were no exception.  What is unique, however, is the home.  Fallingwater is built directly over a waterfall on Bear Run, and incorporates the waterfall and the stream into the design of the home.

It is incredible!  There are stairs from the living room of the home to access the water below.  There are 4 bedrooms and six bathrooms in the home.  Fallingwater has several sections that are cantilevered, meaning they are only supported at one end, including the living room and the outdoor balconies. The home is constructed with concrete and locally quarried Pottsville sandstone, and a series of cantilevered “trays” make up the home over the waterfall.  Wright called his style organic architecture, where stone floors continue inside and out, corner windows blur the lines between interior and exterior, and glass is used in abundance to bring the outdoors in.

Wright wanted the design to be in harmony with nature, and he did not want to have unnecessary braces or structural support.  Wright also insisted that he design the furniture on most of the homes he designed, and Fallingwater contains the original furniture that came with the home.  The Kaufmanns were permitted to display some of their own knick-knacks and artwork; Wright liked to control every detail of the homes he designed.

Unfortunately, there were some disagreements between Wright and the contractors, and the owners of the house.  The Kaufmanns were concerned about whether Wright had enough experience working with concrete and structural engineers recommended much more structural bracing than Wright wanted; the owners had the additional bracing added in spite of Wright’s protests.  Even with this additional structural support added, a study done several years ago showed that the cantilevers were still in danger, and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has had to add additional support in recent years.

 

The tour was very interesting and gave a lot of information about the Kaufmanns and their prized home.  Unfortunately, you can’t take photos inside, and there were far too many people on the tour to sneak any, but I did wander the grounds and I made sure to get the iconic shot of the home and the Bear Run waterfall.  Fallingwater is certainly worth a visit if you have the chance!