Sunday, September 23, 2007

On the National Road, Frank Lloyd Wright & the Beginning of the Road Home

I left from Lavale, Maryland at around 7:30 via Highway 40, which is also known as "The National Road". Built from 1815 to 1818, the road was the first surfaced road of significant length (Cumberland, MD to Wheeling, WV) in the United States. The road's "mile markers", which don't actually occur at every mile, are white, obelisk shaped markers made of cast iron (originals) or fiberglass (replacements) that indicate the distance to the next nearest town and the distance to its terminus; Wheeling if you're traveling west (thanks to Christopher Busta-Peck of Baltimore for details on the construction of these markers). My first and only stop along the road was Fort Necessity, the outpost commanded by a 22 year old George Washington for the British in 1754 during the French & Indian war. This was the location of Washington's only surrender, and interestingly, Washington purchased the land years later.

From there it was on to the Laurel Highlands of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Here, I toured two of Frank Lloyd Wright's homes, Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob. I would have to say that I preferred Kentuck Knob as it was a permanent residence as opposed to Fallingwater which was only used by the owners as a "weekend home". Because of this, Kentuck Knob had a much more contained feel, whereas parts of Fallingwater felt large and cold. The costs to build these homes were: Fallingwater, 1939, $155,000 ($2.1 million adjusted for inflation) and Kentuck Knob, 1956, $90,000 ($624,000 adjusted for inflation).

The drive from here to Cleveland was full of realization that I was coming home. Heading west after going east for so long felt strange; at times during the eastward push, I thought I might head for the Atlantic Coast and then...Britain? Germany? But this was not to be. As I drove towards Pittsburgh the Appalachians disappeared; rather, they faded into the rolling landscape - and quite without being given permission to leave the dinner table. The Appalachians are not like the Rockies, which can be seen for miles off even a somewhat clear day; no, they appear to me to be more part of a natural progression - more present, more expected, but at the same time not overtly demanding your full attention. Driving toward Cleveland I thought, for one last time on this voyage, "Oh Appalachia, won't your roads take me home?" Truly, they would; but even after a relatively short time in this land where scenic majesty and formative history converge, it felt like moving toward "home" was moving the wrong direction.

The Stats:
Driving Time: 5 Hours
Driving Miles: 300+

What was Heard:
The Beatles' Abbey Road, White Album (Disc 1), Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band & Love
John Vanderslice's Emerald City
Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga & Gimme Fiction
The Royal Tenenbaums Soundtrack
Andrew Bird's Armchair Apocrypha
The Kinks' Something Else & Village Green Preservation Society


Tim said...

Once you've been entranced by the peaceful majesty of the mountains, moving away always seems wrong. Their quiet strength continues to call you 'home' from wherever you normally hang your hat, long after your departure. The only way to satisfy this urge is to return to them from time to time, much like a grandchild visiting the beloved grandparents.

Christopher Busta-Peck said...

For what it's worth, the (obelisk shaped) milestones are actually cast iron, or, for the ones that have been replaced, fiberglass.

If you actually care more about such things, you might want to check out my maps of extant National Road milestones, in the links section of my National Road blog.

Cybill said...

Keep up the good work.