Friday, September 11, 2015

August 31: Fallingwater and Drivinghome

1925 saw the opening of the Hotel Morgan in Morgantown, West Virginia. The wainscoting in the lobby would floor you. The old mailbox in the lobby with the chute that feeds in from all the above floors is the stuff of dreams. I’ve always loved that stuff.

During most of its tenure, the hotel did indeed house visitors.  At one point, apparently West Virginia University used it for student housing. I would bet vandalism and vomit suggested that was a poor idea.  It is now owned by Clarion. If you’re in the area and you dig old stuff, stay here.

Our final destination for our trip was basically placed on my “go to” list by my college advisor, Dr. Ted Ligibel.  Natalie wanted to canoe, hike, camp, watch whales, drink beer and sleep while I did all the driving. I was good for all of that, too, but this location was my “Hey, look, here is a great chance to do this. Dr. Ted said so.”

Fallingwater. (Note the lack of the space.  That’s being artsy, folks.  My spellcheck is screaming.)

Built in the late 1930’s by the intergalactically famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright for the Kaufman family (of Pittsburgh), this place will blow your mind.  Every organization or magazine claims this is a place that everyone should visit. I could not agree more. 

The amazing combination of horizontal lines with vertical lines and the fact that the home is functionally built from the bluff and is cantilevered over a waterfall is awe inspiring. Locally quarried stone and the combination of the rocks on site (some of which were not moved and are both inside and outside the home as the wall rests on the stone) provides a great melting of nature and construction. Overall, the attention detail is simply incredible.


Sadly, the home was not without its troubles. The elder Kaufman called the home, at times, Risingmildew, clearly noting the persistent dampness.  I can only imagine how the books fared. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the owners of the home, brought in a team of engineers and preservationists a few years back to repair the structure.  The terraces were sagging 7 inches over a 15 foot span.  Yikes!

That said, I could never live there.  The Kaufmans were clearly not tall. At 6’0”, I was uncomfortable in some rooms as my head was barely clearing the doorframes.  Another fellow, who I would put at 6’2”, had to duck multiple times.  Wilt Chamberlin would have been screwed.  The hallways were very tight. This was Wright’s attempt to force you out onto the terraces or perhaps the large central room.  Further, the humidity was high that day.  If you are one who needs central air, you’re out of luck. That said, I’m sure the winter was pleasant with the multiple fireplaces.

In any case, get there. Take the tour. Spend a million dollars in the cafĂ© (it’s not hard). Spend a billion dollars in the gift shop (it’s not hard). Support one of the most amazing places you’re ever going to visit.  Do it. 

For the non-photographers out there, the combination of the dark vegetation and the light terraces makes for awkward lighting.  If you meter off the building, the building will look fine  but the vegetation will be black. If you meter off the plants, the building will burn out and become white while they plants stay green.  Fortunately, when it came time for my photo, the clouds rolled in.  With all our frustrations involving clouds, fog and rain, this was one episode where I was happy to see the sun blocked.  The light was more even. My neutral density filters did their magic.  Silky water falls.  Ooooooooh.

If you want to buy this picture off of me, you can.  Actually, no, I’m kidding. I can’t sell it without the explicit written permission of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.  If they find out I sold it, they will hunt me down and throw me off the waterfall.  Or perhaps they would embed me in concrete during the next round of rehabilitation. Worse yet, they may make me live there.

Sadly, and I mean sadly, we knew we needed to press on. Fortunately, we were able to stop at our other favorite brewery, the Great LakesBrewing Company in Cleveland. Check your maps. It makes good sense.  Pittsburg to Detroit is only 4 hours. The fastest route is via Cleveland. 

We were home by 9:30pm.

Miles driven: 3,490
Miles per gallon: 40.2
Average speed: 43.5
Gallons used: 86.5

States visited: 8
National Park Sites visited: 7

Beer sampled: 46
Breweries sampled: 17
Beer (life total): 1,634

Birds: weeeeeell, that’s a toughy.  As the trip moved on, our birds notes became less and less. I need to still update that info but I don’t have time do it here and now.  Maybe I’ll post an addendum in the future.  No new birds for me – that’s for sure.  The Great Shearwater was new for Natalie. We missed some boreal species that would have been new for her, including Boreal Chickadee.

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