Hobnobbing at Kentuck Knob
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A winter view of Kentuck Knob, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
The Monday before Thanksgiving found my husband and me driving up Route 40 in Fayette County, headed toward Kentuck Knob, the house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for ice cream maker I.N. Hagan and his wife, Bernardine, in the mid-1950s.
Each week we map out a road trip in the region. If you have a suggestion for a great one, e-mail email@example.com or write:
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
34 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Under gray skies, the forested hills ahead were bare of leaves and covered with a light coating of snow.
Quite a view, and that's a bonus at Kentuck Knob this time of year, too.
We decided to visit on a lark, having spent the previous night as the only guests at a lovely bed and breakfast, the Inne at Watson's Choice just outside of Uniontown. Our plan had been to get away for a night, have a nice dinner, then take a leisurely drive back to Pittsburgh and do some antiquing on the way. But after dinner at Caleigh's Restaurant in Uniontown and a soak in our room's whirlpool tub, I found a copy of Mrs. Hagan's recent book on the building of Kentuck Knob in the inn's collection. I got about halfway through before bed. The next morning at breakfast (light and delicious buttermilk pancakes, homemade sausage, plus cinnamon rolls, vanilla custard, a cranberry compote and fresh fruit cup -- oof!), we asked innkeeper Nancy Ross if we needed a reservation to see the house, as you do at Wright's other southwestern Pennsylvania house, Fallingwater. No, she told us, you don't, and then produced a hand-drawn map, complete with mileage and landmarks to get us there. (The home's Web site recommends reservations.)
We arrived in time for the noon tour. Tickets, gifts and snacks are on sale in a converted greenhouse at the base of the property and a guide drives you by shuttle to the knob, where the house sits. Another bonus to visiting this time of year is that you get virtually a private tour -- it was just our guide, another couple and us.
The tour begins in the living room, a grand space with a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace that soars open from the home's small entry. The room is now filled with family photos and works of art from the collection of the present owner, businessman Lord Peter Palumbo, who uses it as a vacation home. The living room sweeps into the dining room, and both are faced with windows (floor to ceiling in the living room) looking out onto a stone patio and the Laurel Mountains beyond.
At this time of year, the view -- through the bare trees and off to the mountains in the distance -- is stunning. Although no fire was lit, it was delicious to imagine watching winter storm clouds over the horizon while a blaze crackled in the stone fireplace. As are no doubt many visitors to Wright homes, I was struck by the grand scale of the whole structure and the small scale of some of the rooms inside. The kitchen is tiny by modern standards but seems less cramped because of its tall ceiling capped with a clear plastic dome that lets in daylight. One great use of counter space is the four stove burners that flip up out of the way when they're not in use. The dining room table, set with Wright porcelain from Palumbo's collection for the holidays, separates into two for smaller or larger gatherings. But I couldn't help but imagine how the knees of my 6-foot, 2-inch-tall husband would be crammed right under his chin if he tried to sit there.
The tour ends outside at the crest of Kentuck Knob, where you can look down onto the Youghiogheny River valley, marred slightly by a cell phone tower. You can walk back down through the Sculpture Garden or take the shuttle. Since it was pretty cold, we opted for the shuttle.
On the way back down, our guide pointed out something that had puzzled me on the way up. A large piece of concrete, covered with graffiti, sat just below the road. I was trying to picture how something like that had gotten there, much less been tagged.
The explanation? It's a chunk of the Berlin Wall. Palumbo's tastes are eclectic, to say the least. Yet as our guide had said, "When he's here, he wears his comfy jeans and stands in line at Wal-Mart, like everyone else."
We wished we had another day to spend at the inn, to ramble over its 40-plus acres and come back for a glass of wine or a cup of hot cider. The Harvest House, built in 2001 and separate from the inn's main 1820s building, has four rooms and a suite, most with whirlpool tubs and/or two-person showers. There's also what the Rosses call The Gathering Room, featuring books, antiques, quilts, games and a small kitchenette with a wine cooler for guests' wines, a small fridge and microwave.
Of course, there's always next time.
The Inne at Watson's Choice, named for the original owner of the property, Revolutionary War soldier John Watson, is at 234 Balsinger Road, Uniontown. Phone: 724-437-4999 or 1-888-820-5380 or visit www.watsonschoice.com. There also is a small conference center and a bicycle stable. Other Laurel Highlands attractions include the spa at Nemacolin Woodlands, Fallingwater, Christian Klay winery, whitewater rafting at Ohiopyle and bicycle trails. Off-season rates range from $108 to $192.50. It's about an hour from Pittsburgh.
Kentuck Knob is off Ohiopyle-Chalk Hill Road in Chalk Hill, Fayette County. Admission is $15 for adults, $8 for children for the regular tour (1 hour to 90 minutes). Also available are in-depth tours (we didn't get to see Mrs. Hagan's art room), group tours and after-hour tours. Through December, tours are at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. For more information, call 724-329-1901. or visit www.kentuckknob.com.
First Published December 10, 2006 12:00 am