I grew up 15 minutes away from Chalk Hill. As a kid my parents took us on short hiking trips up the mountains where the trails were endless and the scenery was beautiful. When I moved to Pittsburgh, I learned more about Frank Lloyd Wright and the beautiful structures he created. My mom swears she took us to Fallingwater, though I don’t recall ever visiting and I feel like would not have forgotten. As a person who runs a site dedicated to design admiration, I felt I was long overdue for a visit. In an unfortunate turn of events, I went to purchase two tickets for a tour and they were sold out for the season. My next best choice was the lesser famous, but still stunning Kentuck Knob, another FLW gem.
I learned so much on the guided tour of this historic work of art. Kentuck Knob was built for Isaac Newton and Bernardine Hagan, who were owners of a major dairy company in Uniontown, PA. I remember visiting their family dairy as a kid and eating their rich, delicious ice cream. They learned about Wright from visiting their friends Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann’s home, Fallingwater. They fell in love with area and purchased 80 acres in the mountains of Laurel Highlands, with the intention of giving Frank Lloyd Wright a gorgeous canvas upon which to design their home.
In August of 1953, Isaac Hagan wrote to Wright about creating drawings for a new house. He wrote “For some time now, it has been our fond hope that we might someday confer with you about the construction of a house for us in the mountains. We have now acquired some land and are ready to explore the possibility of building.” Wright agreed to design the house for the Hagans without even seeing the land. I was blown away to learn that Wright only visited the house ONCE during the entire process of initial design to completion of construction. It was in the middle of the build out when he made his sole trip to the Kentuck district of Stewart Township, PA.
Wright had a way about him that seemed arrogant but at that point in his career, it was hard to question him. He was 86 years old when he took on the Kentuck Knob project, and had built quite a portfolio of accomplishments along the way. His approach to design had a lot of rules and restrictions. The Hagans had arguments with him about the angle of the house, furniture, and height of the ceilings. Wright tended to design his ceilings low, but Mrs. Hagan insisted that the ceilings be higher because her family was tall. There’s a lot of interesting behind-the-scenes facts to learn when you take the tour; I highly recommend it!
Wright designed Kentuck Knob with native sandstone and tidewater red cypress, which blend naturally in the surroundings. The open floor plan, strategic natural lighting, cantilevered overhangs, and seamless expanses of glass intentionally draw in the natural setting.
Isaac and Bernardine sold Kentuck Knob in 1986 to Lord Peter Palumbo of Great Britain. Lord and Lady Palumbo still visit Kentuck Knob every so often, as they use it as a vacation home. They own many interesting sculptural works, and maybe most interestingly, an unassuming piece of concrete with graffiti on it that is actually a piece Berlin Wall. Today Kentuck Knob sees approximately 35,000 visitors each year. The money that the visitors pay for tours is used to maintain the homestead and their incredible sculpture meadow.
Venturing into the mountains during the fall is the best time of year for this journey. The leaves are changing color, the air is crisp, and the scenery looks surreal. My friend and I really appreciated the tour and the history lesson that came along with it. It’s super easy to buy tickets online, just visit Fallingwater’s website. Enjoy!