Each of the USA's 50 states has its famous spots, those "must see" places where everyone goes sooner or later. And each part of the country has is own forgotten corners, too, where the locals know a good thing and how to keep it a secret. The Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania are just such a region, one familiar to savvy Pittsburghers but hardly anyone else.
The Highlands are just 45 miles from Pittsburgh, easily reached on a scenic drive down Route 51 through Brentwood and Perryopolis to Uniontown, in the heart of the Laurel Hills. You can drive along quiet byways here or cruise down moderately traveled routes, stopping at old country inns to sleep and eat, and visit places significant to our nation's history and its modern art development.
It won't make your wallet cry, either, as it's possible to tour this part of Pennsylvania for as little as $52.70, a cost based on sharing a $74 double room at the Ohiopyle Guest Houses and eating three balanced meals daily, breakfast at a Uniontown family restaurant ($3.95), lunch and dinner at the Stone House, a $4.50 sandwich at noon and $7.25 chicken and dumplings in the evening. (See details below.)
Among the panoramas of natural beauty and seasonal changes, a few manmade works of art stand out. Foremost, perhaps, is Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, newly refurbished inside and out, glistening like a Space Age utopian outpost in a primeval bosky dell. A few fans of the great architect prefer his nearby Kentuck Knob, a spacious mountain home in Chalk Hill. But I would vote for gorgeous Fallingwater, the home near Connellsville. Fallingwater was built in 1936 for a local Pittsburgh department store owner, Edgar J. Kaufman, but this masterpiece of 20th century art has been open to the public since 1964 and is now owned by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Admission is $10 weekdays, $15 weekends and holidays. Ground-only tickets (no tour of the house) costs $4 and $6, respectively. Contact Fallingwater at PO Box R, Mill Run PA 15464, phone 724/329-8501, Web site www.paconserve.org.
Wright designed Kentuck Knob as a mountain home some 2,000 feet above sea level, using local craftsmen for its construction throughout. The current owners, an English lord and lady (he a former chairman of the British Arts Council), allow guided tours everday except Monday. The cost is $10 for adults. Contact them at Kentuck Knob, Kentuck Road, PO Box 305, Chalk Hill PA 15421, phone 724/329-1901, fax 724/329-0977, Web site www.kentuckknob.com.
History buffs might like Fort Necessity National Battlefield, where George Washington first battled in earnest during the French and Indian War in 1754. Located a few miles southeast of Uniontown on US 40, it boasts a visitors center, reconstructed fort, restored tavern, and the grave of George Washington's commander, British General Braddock. George was luckier than Braddock in that he lived, but unlucky in that he had to give up to the French (his only such surrender). Adult admission is $2. Contact Fort Necessity National Battlefield, 1 Washington Parkway, Farmington PA 15437, phone 724/329-5512, Web site www.nps.gov/fone.
If you're interested in World War II and the Cold War, you could well visit the George C. Marshall Memorial Plaza in Uniontown, where the former Secretary of State and Defense and Nobel Peace Prize Winner was born. At the corner of West Main and West Fayette streets, the memorial honors Marshall through a display of flags, a statue and several plaques.
At the Plough House in Farmington, you can relive the history of the Mountain Pike (and later the National Road, now US 40), as well as the story of the Bruderhof Communities, which contributed so much to the history of southwestern Pennsylvania. The Mountain Pike Heritage Center is part of the Plough House, where you can sample some home baked goods and coffee or cold drinks, as well as look through books on a wide range of topics. They are on Route 40 East in Farmington, phone 724/329-8573, Web site www.theploughhouse.com.
If you have time, save some for outdoor activities, especially those involving the Youghioghen River. Along the lower part of that stream, centering on Ohiopyle, you can glide along between the banks on guided tours or on your own, through clean rapids of only moderate difficulty. Because of a dam and lake upstream, you can paddle here all summer when other rivers run dry. One operator of guided tours, Mountain Streams, offers self-bailing rafts or duckies, and a two-hour loop trip if you are in a hurry. Contact them at PO Box 106, Ohiopyle PA 15470, phone 800 RAFT NOW or visit their Web site at www.mtstreams.com. Tours runs from $26.95 to $59.95, depending on season and day of the week.
Two other experienced outfitters, with similar prices, are Ohiopyle Recreational Rentals, PO Box 4, Ohiopyle PA 15470, phone 800/245-4090, Web site www.mtstreams.com/ORR.htm and White Water Adventures, PO Box 31, Ohiopyle PA 15470, phone 800/WWA-RAFT, fax 724/329-1488, e-mail email@example.com, Web site www.wwaraft.com.
A unique float trip of 2.5 hours, where "you won't get wet," is operated by Wilderness Voyageurs, PO Box 97, Ohiopyle PA 15470, phone 800/272-4141, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, Web site www.wilderness-voyageurs.com. The cost is $26 per person and the season is from May 1 through October 15, yearly.
The Yough River Trail is 67 miles long, and can be used free of charge by bikers, hikers, fishermen and women, and for cross-country skiing, depending on the season, of course. Contact the Trail Council at 724/628-5500 for more information, or visit the Web site at www.youghrivertrail.org/yrt.htm.
A good hike along one of the dozen trails in the Bear Run Nature Reserve can also be exhilarating, and it's free! For information and a free brochure, contact the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy at 209 Fourth Avenue, Pittsburgh PA 15222, phone 412/288-2777, e-mail email@example.com.
The Stone House Inn is nearly as venerable as you can get in this part of the country, having first opened its doors in about 1822. A two-story pile of stone, the inn contains ten Victorian-style rooms in the original building, while a new wing has six more, with Ralph Lauren decor. In the new Ziegler wing, three rooms each have a private bath at $85. Over in the original structure, the ten rooms range in price from $85 to $150, seven being under $100. In the new wing, all rooms have televisions and private bath, the more expensive ones having Jacuzzis. Not all the rooms in the original building have private baths, but there is a common area with TV and VCR, as well as games, books, video tapes, etc, and a phone with free local calls. There's a good restaurant on the premises (see listing, below). 3023 National Pike (Route 40, east of Uniontown), Farmington PA 15437, phone 800/274-7138 or 724/329-8876, fax 724-329-1275, Web site www.stonehouseinn.com.
The Ohiopyle Guest Houses is a group of four such places, all in the center of Ohiopyle and near the river. Between the four houses, there are 14 guest rooms and seven baths, accommodating up to 36 persons. Double rooms start at $74 per room, triple from $105. Contact them at Laurel Highlands River Tours, PO Box 107, Ohiopyle PA 15470, phone 800/4RAFTIN or 724/329-8531, Web site www.laurelhighlands.com/lodging.html.
Campbell House B&B has just five rooms, but four have private baths. Prices range from $80 to $90 per room, and full breakfast is included. Not far from Frank Lloyd Wright's famous Fallingwater House. Contact the Campbell House at 305 E. Main Street, Ligonier PA 15658, phone 724/238-9812, fax 724/238-9951, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, Web site www.soupkid.com.
Ohiopyle Lodge, just 50 yards from the river and the bike trail, is a cottage with private bath and full kitchen (do it yourself breakfast and other meals), sleeping four persons. Rates are $80 to $97, depending on date. Excellent for river activities, such as canoeing, kayaking, rafting, or for trail fun, biking and hiking. Contact the lodge at PO Box 237, Chalkhill PA 15421, phone 724/437-1481, e-mail email@example.com, Web site www.ohiopylelodge.com.
Pine Wood Acres B&B has just three rooms, two with private bath, but they offer full breakfast in the rates, which run from $80 to $90 per room. You stay in this 1880 farmhouse (on four wooded acres) and enjoy the herb and flower gardens, when you are not off looking at Wright's Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob houses nearby. Contact the B&B at Route 1, Box 634, Scottdale, PA 15683, phone 724/887-5405, fax 724/887-3111, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Stone House Restaurant, on the ground floor of an old inn, serves traditional food at reasonable prices. At lunch you can have a combo sandwich (ham, egg, cheese with lettuce, tomato and onion) for just $4.50, or soup and sandwich from $5.99, entrees from $6.95 (General George C. Marshall's chicken and dumplings). At dinnertime, the cheapest sandwich is a meatball sub for $5.50, served with French fries, fruit or coleslaw. Entrees start at $7.25 (chicken and dumplings again), but average around $15 (sirloin filet). The restaurant is at 3023 National Pike (Route 40, East of Uniontown), Farmington PA 15437, phone 800/274-7138 or 724/329-8876, fax 724/329-1275, Web site www.stonehouseinn.com.
Several family-style restaurants, which abound in the area, can be found in and near Uniontown, about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh near the intersection of Highway 51 with US 40. Among the best of these, just to name a few, are DiMarco's Café and Sam's Restaurant, both on Morgantown Street (at numbers 7 and 208, respectively) or Meloni's, the latter at 105 W. Main Street. A two-egg breakfast with toast and coffee goes for as little as $2.95 and up to $3.95 at these spots, while lunchtime sandwiches or small entrees average about $5.50, dinnertime entrees about $8.95 at all three places.
The Oak Dining Room at Seven Springs Mountain Resort can be expensive if you aren't careful, but offers significant bargains if you just keep your head about you. Best among these is their Sunday Brunch, featuring all you can eat of stuff such as Alaskan king crablegs, seafood fettuccini, and steamship round of beef for $16.95. The buffet, which costs just $8.50 for kids 8 to 12 and $4.50 for children 4 to 7, also features fresh salads, hors d'oeuvres, homemade breads and desserts. Children under 3 eat free. If you aren't here on Sundays, note that their sandwiches run from $6.50 to $8.95 at lunchtime, their dinner entrees begin at $8.95 for chicken primavera. Finally, if you want a big breakfast on any day of the week, there is a country breakfast buffet for $8.95 (children less), again featuring all you can eat, fresh eggs made to order, Belgian waffles, bacon and sausage included. Contact the Seven Springs Mountain Resort, Champion PA15622, phone 800/452-2223 or 814/352-7777, Web site www.7springs.com.For more information about the Laurel Highlands Area, please visitors bureau Web site at www.laurelhighlands.org/big_home_page.cfm.