Check it off the bucket list: Falling Water

Whatever you think of him as a person– and he seemed pretty flawed– I am fascinated by Frank Lloyd Wright. I have a DVD on his life, I’ve read Loving Frank and The Women. I’ve visited his home and studio several times; I’ve been to Taliesin in Spring Green more than once, and I’ve always longed to see Falling Water, the house Wright built for the Kaufmans, a wealthy family in Western Pennsylvania, in 1935. Falling Water, the house Wright built on top of a waterfall and into the side of a hill!

I often thought of going there and I finally got my chance with a recent business trip to Philadelphia. I ordered a house tour ticket online before I left and learned he had another home, Kentuck Knob, down the road. My plan was to take care of business in Philadelphia and then drive to Mill Run, Pennsylvania and spend a day touring these two houses. I understood the drive would be 3 ½ to 4 hours.

I picked up my rental car (lesson learned:in the future, have the rental agency show me how to work the car; I did ask if the car had a manual and the desk guy chuckled at that, as if it were a ridiculous question, and said no). At around 2:00 PM on a Thursday afternoon, I headed to Mill Run. It was an overcast day and before long it began to rain. The 3 ½ hour turned into 6 hours — somehow I got that wrong (lesson learned: do better research next time) and by the time I found my Holiday Inn hotel, I had traveled dark, hilly Pennsylvania roads, sometimes in fog with little visibility. I was thrilled to park that car, shut off the engine,check into the hotel, and call it a night. This better be worth it, I thought to myself, more than once.

Quick digression: Without that manual, I experienced an adventure of trying to figure out how to open the car’s gas cap. After a 20-minute exploration, I recruited the woman behind the counter at the gas station and she also couldn’t figure it out. Then she finally hit the gas cap cover hard with her fist and it popped open. We said to each other that we are bright women; it’s not us, it’s the car, and laughed it off.

I woke up on Friday in my Holiday Inn room to a gorgeous Autumn day. The sun was shining. The sky was bright blue and clear. I grabbed some breakfast in the hotel and got directions from there to Falling Water. It was a short drive and I found the place easily (phew).

I parked the car and started down the path to the visitor center which I began to see the closer I got. The Falling Water Visitor Center is an open one set in nature. I felt an immediate sense of Wright at work already – this visitor center is in harmony with its surroundings, a beautiful wooded area. I felt calm.

I checked in at the visitor center window and was assigned to a group that would tour the house in 10 minutes. I wandered around and went into the gift shop and café, and soon our group was called to gather for our tour. We headed down a dirt path and I caught myself, pausing in my mind, realizing and relishing that I was about to do something I’d wanted to do for years. I felt the thrill of achieving a small dream.

We walked down the road and soon there it was in full view: Falling Water, a beautiful structure standing amazingly and proudly on top of a water fall. I’ll let my photos speak to describing the place. I didn’t expect the house to be in such good condition. The house overall and its furnishings looked pretty good.  No doubt the $23 tickets and gold mine of a gift shop do much to support the place.

Traveling through the house, I could hear the sound of the waterfall in every room. I looked out of the many windows and while I was inside, I felt so much like I was outside. That was Wright’s goal and I experienced it.

The Kaufmans gave Wright a budget of $10,000 and he proceeded to spend $150,000 (imagine that amount of money in 1935!). When you signed up with Wright, it seemed you were in for a ride. I have read  about Wright’s stubbornness and insistence on having his way, and it sounds like Mr. Kaufman was equally stubborn. Oh,to have witnessed the spats between those two!

I enjoyed the house tour very much and then wandered around the grounds, taking my time. I soaked in the experience and was pretty happy with myself. Yes, the long, grueling drive was worth it. And Kentuck Knob house, a short drive down the road, is also an amazing house. It’s hard to compete with Falling Water, built into a hill on a waterfall, but Kentuck Knob has its own unique beauty, charm and Wright-ness.

I left Kentuck Knob and drove around the area, taking in the farms, the hills, and the woods in all of their colorful displays.

The drive back to Philadelphia the next day was smooth. I was stunned by the Fall colors. I have seen photographs of trees in all their Autumn glory and have wondered if the color had been artificially adjusted. I now will believe those colorful scenes because I have witnessed them. I tried once to snap a picture on my iPhone through the windshield but when the car swerved, I decided that this time, all of this Autumn beauty has to be captured in my mind.

I’ll end by adding photos of the house and hope they speak for themselves.


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