For some time I’ve been yearning to visit Fallingwater, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces. Since it is about 4 hours drive from where we live in Virginia, we planned a weekend around it, deciding to see the house on Sunday, and camping overnight nearby at Ohiopyle State Park Campground the previous night.
We arrived at Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania in the early afternoon on Saturday. We knew Fallingwater was famous, but Ohiopyle – the little town near it – is also famous all on its own for tourist activities, especially on the weekend. It was packed with people walking around, cycling, rafting on the river, and visiting nearby waterfalls. In the town everything is within walking distance and there are lots of cute shops.
The day was beautiful and warm, despite being mid-October. To refresh ourselves, we took a quick stroll on a picturesque bridge over the rushing river.
Ohiopyle State Park Campground
The drive had been long, so we decided to head on over to the campground. Ohiopyle State Park Campground is an affordable alternative to staying at a hotel. For two people for one night we paid $30 to stay at a campsite close to a bathroom and shower.
While the price and the close access to a bathroom was nice, this campground was a bit hit-and-miss for us. There are a lot of places at the Ohiopyle campground that are covered in pebbles. This is probably fine if you mainly do car-access camping and bring a big tent with a strong tent footprint. However, according to reviews online, our light tent and tent footprint meant for backpacking could be easily damaged by such little sharp rocks. Our first campsite was completely covered in pebbles, so we arranged to move to a different spot.
One of our campsite neighbors decided to only stay one day instead of two and kindly gave us his remaining campfire wood before leaving. We set up camp, started a fire, and hung out reading books and relaxing for a while. Anticipating an early morning, we took showers and dried our hair by the fire.
Unfortunately, bedtime wasn’t too relaxing because neighboring campers were making noise late into the evening.
In the morning a lovely mist descended on the autumnal campground, making for some nice pictures.
Although it was an interesting experience, we much prefer backpacking, getting tired from the exercise, and staying overnight in the solitude of the wilderness.
After packing up, we headed over to our main objective: a tour of Fallingwater. The house was designed as a private residence and weekend home for the family of Pittsburgh department store owner, Edgar J. Kaufmann, Sr. Can you imagine having this as your second home in the country? Apparently the cost of the house was more than they were shooting for, but the end result was well worth it! The family kindly donated and entrusted the house and the surrounding 1,543 acres of natural land in 1963 to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, a non-profit organization that continues to upkeep and manage it.
We had purchased tickets ahead of time ($60 for two for a 1-hour house tour). You need to reserve your spot and purchase tickets a few weeks ahead of time to get a good slot. The tour groups of about 15 people start every 10 minutes. A guide shows you through the house in 5-minute segments. On the 1-hour house tour you are not allowed to take pictures inside the house, but if you sign up for a longer, in-depth tour, they let you do so.
Designed by Frank Lloyed Wright in 1935, with all wings completed by 1939, the house is meant to blend art and nature. For example, the height of the house matches the height of the two waterfalls that run below it. Also, the beige tone of the painted concrete is inspired by the color of the underside of a fallen Great Laurel leaf. In the woods surrounding the house there are many Great Laurels.
Great Laurel, Rhododendron, American Rhododendron, Great Rhododendron, or Rhododendron maximum, is a member of the Heath Family (Ericaceae). They bloom June to August. Great Laurels grow in damp woods and forested wetlands. Its hard wood can be used in making tools and ornaments.
This photo is from an August trip to Dolly Sods, but it is nice to imagine the forest surrounding the house filled with these big, bold flowers in summer.
One of the many things I loved about Fallingwater was how modern and minimalist it was. I felt like I was walking through a house in a current home design magazine. Interestingly, Frank Lloyd Wright also designed most of the furniture in the house. My favorites were the zabuton seats, inspired by similar chairs in Japan:
The above image is from the Fallingwater website that highlights various art and furniture pieces in the collection.
After the tour you cross over onto a path that leads to an overlook with an iconic view of the abode.
Visiting Fallingwater was a unique experience and definitely worth the time and effort. Going forward, my husband and I plan to go see other Frank Lloyd Wright structures. Wright made over 1,000 designs in his career, 532 of which were completed. While we probably cannot see them all, I bet the ones we will see will be beautiful and inspiring in their own ways.