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A Sister Trip to the Frank Lloyd Wright Houses in the Laurel Highlands

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My sister and I decided a few years ago to take annual road trips together – just the two of us. It has turned into a wonderful tradition, deepening our relationship.  We opted for our 2019 road trip to head to Western Pennsylvania and explore Frank Lloyd Wright houses Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob.

Two sisters take back roads for a road trip to Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Pennsylvania
Sisterhood of the Back Road!

While planning the trip, we consulted with Scott at Take Back Roads for recommendations of back roads for us to travel. We were driving from Central Pennsylvania to the Laurel Highlands. We decided to stay at the Historic Summit Inn in Farmington, PA.  Scott gave us two excellent and very different back road options for our journey:  the Gettysburg/Maryland option and the historic battlefield option.

A Back Road Journey to the Laurel Highlands

We headed out intending to do the Gettysburg/Maryland option… and within an hour, we were lost!  Of course, as Scott has said, you are never lost, you are just off on a different adventure. How right he was! As a result, we actually ended up doing part of his “forest route” that was one of the options for our return trip. We drove through beautiful Michaux State Forest on Route 233, then on to Route 16, finally hitting route 60 heading towards Hagerstown, MD.

While driving on Route 233, we stopped in Waynesboro, PA at a wonderful hardware store — Quincy Hardware.  What a treasure trove of interesting things! Lots of enamelware for cooking or eating.  Plenty of herbs and spices as well – I picked up a coffee rub as a Thank You gift for Scott.   We also bought several suet cakes for my neighbor. Truly, it is a worthwhile place to stop—and they had very clean bathrooms!

When we got to Hagerstown, we had a decision to make—take I-68 or US Route 40. We opted to take I-68, which is also a beautiful drive, to save almost 2 hours of driving. We wanted to stop at Spruce Forest Artisan Village, one of Scott’s “must see” places. Again, he hit it out of the park on this one!

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We had a wonderful lunch at Cornucopia Cafe. We sat on their porch with a beautiful view of their lawn and creek. The food was excellent. I have a severe food allergy, and they went over and above to accommodate me.

After lunch we walked around the Village enjoying the various museum houses and shopping at the various artisan booths set up inside. When we headed out of the Village, we decided to take Route 40 to our destination — The Historic Summit Inn.

Front view of the Historic Summit Inn in the Laurel Highlands near Frank Lloyd Wright houses

Staying at the Historic Summit Inn

The Historic Summit Inn is lovely. The vista is breath taking! It’s an old place (hence, the name); therefore, it was not handicap accessible. Lots of stairs to get from the parking lot to the porch and more to get to your room — with no elevators. They had a gentleman who would take your luggage to your room, but you had to haul it up the stairs to the porch and then inside before his assistance was available.

The lobby has a huge stone fireplace with comfortable seating by the fire. We had a lovely room, well appointed, but inadequate lighting in the room. To me, one of the best features of the Inn is the expansive porch with rockers, couches, chairs and tables.  We enjoyed sitting at a table each afternoon, relaxing on the porch with a glass of wine and cheese while playing Mah Jong.  Such a wonderful way to enjoy the view! We dined there each evening. Although the menu isn’t extensive, it offers hearty options for meat and seafood lovers as well as vegetarians. They also expertly handled my allergy.

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Our First Frank Lloyd Wright House:  Kentuck Knob

Our first full day in the Laurel Highlands took us to Kentuck Knob, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural wonders. Scott suggested we also visit the town of Ohiopyle.  If you are interested in white water rafting this place is for you! We stopped in Falls Market on Main Street, but didn’t spend much time there. We did spend some time in a charming little shop attached to the Community Center.  I didn’t make a note of the name of the shop, but if you go to the Community Center by the town park on Sherman Street, you can’t miss it! A variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables as well as canned goods, antiques, books, and more are all for sale.

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From Ohiopyle, we headed to Kentuck Knob.  The house is one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural wonders. You must have reservations to do a tour of the home. We packed a picnic lunch to eat prior to our tour.  There is a lovely gift shop with an attached sandwich shop (very limited offerings) with both indoor and outdoor seating.

You can hike up to the house from the gift shop, but to participate in the tour, you must take the bus. What an extraordinary “work of art” Kentuck Knob is!  It is a remarkable design, capturing its settings and incorporating the house into its surrounding environment. Taking the house tour is worth your time.

Be sure to take time to explore the grounds around the home. There is a beautiful meadow that overlooks the surrounding area. Also, be sure to walk down through the sculpture garden to return to the gift shop—a wide variety of sculptures nestled in the woods as well as a panel of the Berlin Wall.

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After spending several hours at Kentuck Knob, we headed to Cucumber Falls. We took a short hike to the base of the Falls, but be sure to have sturdy shoes because the “steps” are rough hewn stone. There is sturdy railing along the trail to assist you.

Sadly, because there hadn’t been much rain, the Falls were rather meager, but still beautiful. Scott suggested several other places — Natural Water Slides, Baughman Rock Overlook, Youghiogheny River Lake, the Stone House at Confluence — but sadly we did not get to any of these places. We simply ran out of time.

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Our Second Frank Lloyd Wright House:  Fallingwater

The next day it was raining! We asked the concierge to suggest some indoor options prior to our noon reservations at Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece: Fallingwater. She suggested our visiting Nemacolin Woodlands Resort to see their art gallery — an excellent suggestion.  By the time we were ready to head to Fallingwater, it stopped raining!

As with Kentuck Knob, you must have reservations to take the tour. Compared to Kentuck Knob, the place was packed on a mid-week September day.  This is the “jewel” among Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes located in the Laurel Highlands. It is a must-see. Our docent was knowledgeable and entertaining, making the tour very enjoyable.

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Once we finished, we followed the signs to the spot that overlooks the home. Again, it’s worth the time to visit this spot. We also took the hiking trail back to the gift shop/tour center/restaurant. Be aware it is a lengthy series of “steps” to take you back up to the main area. There are benches along the way in case you need to catch your breath.

Frank Lloyd Wright house Fallingwater viewed from the vista point
View of Fallingwater from the suggested vista point

Scott suggested visiting Polymath Park, where there are several more Wright homes. But, having taken our time at Fallingwater, we opted to return to the Summit Inn porch for more wine and a couple of rousing games of cards!

Overall thought on the two Wright homes we visited — they were beautiful and unique, but definitely not functional…. especially if you like to cook or have a few extra pounds around your midsection! You will have to tour the homes to understand my comment!

Our trip home included a visit to the Flight 93 Memorial.  We took Route 381 to Route 653 through Somerset and on to Stoystown.  Again, this was a beautiful drive through small towns and vast expanses of farm land. Thankfully, it was a serene start to the day, because the Memorial is very emotional.

serene back road and farm land in pennsylvania
Serene Pennsylvania back roads and farmland

Experiencing the Flight 93 Memorial Together

The Flight 93 Memorial is a place every American should visit. As a place commemorating the violence, tragedy and extraordinary heroism that took place, it is exceptionally well done. Unfortunately, the Tower of Voices wind chime exhibit is still not complete. The information at the Tower of Voices indicates they are faced with some engineering challenges.  Once it’s complete, though, it will be extraordinary.

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We spent almost 4 hours exploring the Memorial. We walked down to the impact sight, spent time reading each name on the Wall of Names, and walked to the small kiosk to write a note to the families of those lost.  We also read all the plaques in that area.

We spent a considerable amount of time in the Visitor Center as well. The creators of this exhibit did an exceptional job handling a very difficult and emotional topic. There are boxes of Kleenex all around the Visitor Center — and you will definitely need them. There is a wall of phones to listen in on the recorded voice mails various people on the flight left for their loved ones. These messages evoke deep, raw emotion.

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Two years ago we took our granddaughters here. I would not allow either the 10 year old nor the 14 year old to listen to the messages. I was concerned about the emotional toll those calls take.

Be sure to visit the Flight 93 Memorial. It is an important piece of America’s history and a tribute to those who sacrificed their own lives to save the lives of many others.

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Heading Home

Instead of choosing one of the 3 back road options Scott provided, my sister and I decided we would take the turnpike back to Central PA. We were emotionally drained and ready to be home. From Stoystown we took Route 30 to the Bedford entrance to the turnpike.

It was good to have that short stretch of back road to take us through the peaceful farm lands before hitting the turnpike.  We decided from the beginning this would be a leisurely trip for us. There is so much to see and do in the Laurel Highlands and we wanted to thoroughly enjoy the few places we chose to visit.  I would strongly recommend this approach because each place we visited deserved time to absorb its uniqueness and beauty.

We owe a big thank you to Scott for creating a wonderful adventure for my sister and I. If you are thinking about going somewhere, give strong consideration to going via back roads. Take advantage of Scott’s service to help you plan your adventure. My sister and I are glad we did! There is so much to see on back roads — it’s like eye candy! You develop an appreciation for the beauty and uniqueness of our country. And, you end up feeling peaceful and relaxed, rather than stressed by the hub-bub of zooming cars and trucks on the Interstates and Turnpikes!

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Fallingwater house Frank Lloyd Wright fall colors changing leaves waterfall
Fallingwater house by Frank Lloyd Wright. Image provided courtesy of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.
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