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Old and New The bounteous lands of North America has served the building industry well for the past three hundred years. One of the biggest attractions for early settlers was the abundance of wood, stone and other natural building materials. Later builders appreciated the lime, aggregates and sand which provided the basis for concrete, fostering a great love for, and use of this material in architecture. Visionaries, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, had the ingenious ability to combine all three, which created quality architectural statements during the first half of the twentieth century. The Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania are a must see for architectural buffs, as they are the repository for more than two hundred and fifty years of diverse architectural styles. Old building shares the landscape with new. Traditional home meets creative modernistic, tempered with a love of nature. For early pioneers the woods and mountains of this area yielded ample materials for their solid structures which hugged rugged mountainsides and nestled serenely in pretty valleys. Thick stone walls defied nature's fury, while massive stone fireplaces staved of the cold. Settlers slept under roofs of hand hewn wooden beams that are as sturdy today as they were on the day the roof was raised by friends and neighbours. Homes were functional with the possible exception of the prettified front entries. Stone exteriors were complimented by wide oak or maple flooring. Walls were wood paneled or covered with thick plastering, which ingredients included a liberal quantity of horsehair.
The byways of the Laurel Highlands provide an excellent opportunity to sample a large selection of late eighteenth through late nineteenth century architectural gems. Small and rural communities have taken a delightful pride in their heritage buildings and streetscapes, one notable community being Ligonier, on Route #30, the Lincoln Highway. Ligonier's Scottish roots are celebrated each year in September with a Highland Games, and a great collection of heritage buildings. Visitors flock to the town's beautiful restored downtown area in search of antiques and memorabilia. Fort Ligonier, located in the community, is a quanti-essential eighteenth century fort with excellent and creative displays both inside the fortification and in the adjoining museum building. This is one of the best sites to sample and research Scottish military involvement and influence in North America. One of the earliest manmade buildings can be found three miles east of Ligonier, in the crossroads community of Laughlintown. The Compass Inn, a restored stagecoach stop was built in two sections. The original log inn was erected in 1799, while the stone addition was added in 1820. The Inn is one of the finest examples of the area's early architectural style and composition using materials at hand. Purchased in 1966 by the Ligonier Valley Historical Society, the inn's excellent, sympathetic restoration is complimented by knowledgeable guides and unique "to-period" antiques. Of note are the massive stone fireplaces, the original cage bar in the great room and the well preserved carriages and travel conveyances in the barn.
At the other end of the architectural balance are two Frank Lloyd Wright creations Fallingwater c1930's and Kentuck Knob c1950's, both in spectacular mountain settings. Frank Lloyd, whose life and philosophies have been well documented, was a genius at combining concrete with stone and wood to build homes which complimented the land and its scape. Fallingwater, built for the Edgar J. Kaufmann family, has been called 'the most famous private residence ever built.' The Kaufmann family used the home as a weekend retreat from 1936 through 1963 when it was given to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy with setting, original furnishings and artwork intact. The home is a masterful blend of architectural drama, spectacular horizontal line and form, embracing a waterfall and hillside on the Bear River in the Bear Run Nature Preserve. Anchored by a massive stone chimney, whose foundation is the bedrock of the stream bed, the home's three levels, known as concrete trays, are a showcase stone, wood, glass and manmade art objects. The building itself is considered to be one of the most complete masterpieces of twentieth-century art. The home's concrete trays cantilever over stream and waterfall, with decks which open upon and embrace the natural surroundings. It is an unforgettable thrill to experience the spray and wind of a majestic waterfall, while standing on a deck cantilevered over the abyss. Many of the home's furnishings are Wright designed, to compliment the interior architecture and building materials. Expensive sculptures and paintings, collected by the Kaufmann family, grace walls and alcoves. Ingenious treatments of windows allow the opening of ninety degree corners without the use of supporting columns. Fallingwater's natural setting has been little disturbed in ninety years. A non-intrusive Visitors area, restaurant and gift shop, totally devoted to Frank Lloyd Wright and his work, act as a welcome centre for the preserve and home.
Ten miles away from Fallingwater, at Chalk Hill, just south of the village of Ohiophyle, whose main street is an architectural gem in itself, lies Kentuck Knob, one of the last of Wright's private commissions. The home, originally built for the I.N.Hagan family, is now owned by Lord and lady Palumbo, whose family has graciously opened house and grounds to the general public. While Fallingwater was meant as a showcase for Wright's creative and artistic talents, Kentuck Knob was designed for daily family living. Wright's use of stone and wood compliments the forested location of the home, which is tucked just below the crest of the mountain, seeming to grow from the earth itself. Steps away from a back terrace, the forest opens unto a spectacular fifty mile view of mountain and valley. Wright's use of small area and passageway, opening to an explosion of space and light are most apparent in Lord Palumbo's residence. The kitchen is cosy and at the heart of the home, which is once again anchoring to the earth by a massive fireplace wall. Stone, wood and glass work in an unforgettable, yet functional combination. Visitors feels so cocooned at Kentuck Knob some find it difficult to tear themselves away to walk the forested pathway back to the Visitor Centre. People shouldn't miss the opportunity to walk through the grounds. Lord Palumbo has graced the natural landscape with his expanding collection of sculpture, including one in The Meadow, which incorporates more than ninety silhouetted North American Indian cutouts covering more than over one acre of land. Architectural buffs should end their trek twelve miles south of Kentuck Knob, where they are drawn into the past again by the imposing c1828 Mount Washington Tavern, a meticulously restored, two storey, red brick structure. The Tavern, which was built to serve travelers on the National Road, is the anchor for c1750's Fort Necessity National Battlefield. The meticulously restored tavern also serves as an exhibit area which focuses on the impressive early history of the west Highlands of Pennsylvania.
IF YOU GO:
1 Washington Parkway
Farmington, Pennsylvania 15437
Chalk Hill, Pennsylvania 15421-0305
Mill Run, Pennsylvania 15464
Ligonier, Pennsylvania 15658-1206
Laughlintown, Pennsylvia 15655
120 main Street
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