GAP 6, To Confluence

September 16, 2018

Along the way toward Confluence, we hit Ohiopyle, one of my (and Jack’s) favorite destinations along the Great Allegheny Passage trail. While we’ve camped at, cycled through, eaten in, and wandered around Ohiopyle on many occasions in the past, we’ve never visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s nearby Fallingwater house. 

It was a long day, even though we only covered 30 miles on our bikes, with one or two significant climbs up to extraordinary views. Here are some random pix of the trail (taken both before and after our Wright adventures) the Youghiogheny River, and some sights along the way.

When we rode into Ohiopyle, we took a moment to look at the raging river, which is famous along this stretch for rafting and kayaking (experts only). We were told by the locals that a few days ago, due to Gordon, you could not see any rocks nor the waterfall, there was so much water flowing past after the storm.

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We gathered at Wilderness Voyagers to change our shoes, lock up our bikes, and board the van to head up to Fallingwater—possibly the most famous of F. L. Wright’s architectural achievements. Designed in 1935 for the Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. family (of the Pittsburgh department store fame) Fallingwater was completed in 1939, constructed of sandstone quarried on the property and built by local craftsmen. The decks are made of reinforced concrete cantilevered over the signature stream beside which the home is built, and which is an integral feature of the structure.

While the Kaufmanns never lived full time in the home, it was private until 1963 when son Edgar Kaufmann Jr. entrusted the home, its contents, and grounds to the Pennsylvania Conservancy. Fallingwater is the only Wright work to enter the public domain with all of its original furnishings and artwork intact.

Unfortunately, they do not allow photographs of the interior of the home, but it was set up in the exact way the owners lived in it, right down to the type of whiskies they served. Also, the artworks on the interior were quite varied and beautiful—all were originals—so I was disappointed that I could not photograph and share some of the best. 

Anyone who knows anything about Wright knows that his primary passion for his architecture was that the structure(s) would inhabit their environments nearly seamlessly. He was a prime advocate for merging the inner spaces with the outdoors. Fallingwater is most assuredly an excellent example of how that might be achieved, and then lived by the inhabitants of the structure. Some of the beams holding up the house are embedded in the rocks, and you can see some of the natural, in-place boulders integrated in part of the fireplace. Through a glass door and down some stairs, you can take a dip in the bright stream water that flows beneath the home. Desks and other pieces of furniture are constructed around or imbedded into elements like chimneys, glass corner windows, and doors. 

If you ever get the opportunity, it’s worth the fee for the tour, despite my feeling of being herded through the rooms of the home on a specific schedule so the guides could get as many people in and out of the home as efficiently as possible. There were tons and tons of people there during our tour, but no stragglers or folks not “contained” in a defined group. So we felt as if we were nearly alone in the house.

Also, we were not hurried: none of our questions (except one or two that our newbie guide admitted she did not know the answers to) were flicked aside or ignored, and our guide proved quite knowledgeable about every amazing aspect of the home.

We were able to take some pix outside, as we finished in the Guest House and were headed back to lunch and our pick-up point. So I’ve grouped them below—but first I wanted to show my photo of the “most famous” perspective of the house, side-by-side with Rachel Sager’s mosaic of the same view (from my post dated Sept. 15, GAP 5, Part 1).

We had lunch at the Fallingwater cafe, which was excellent. But again, because of Gordon, we were not able to participate in some of the things we had hoped to do in and around Ohiopyle, so we all elected (and we persuaded our Wilderness Voyagers driver) to go a bit farther afield from Ohiopyle to see another Wright property, Kentuck Knob.

This was quite a different endeavor for Wright, although he still had the concept of fitting the structure into its environment, and bringing the “outside in”—at least on one (the private) side of the structure. It was obvious that this commission was undertaken by a family with more limited means than that of the Kaufmann family. In 1953, I.N. and Bernardine Hagan bought 89 acres in the mountains above Uniontown, PA. The Kaufmanns and the Hagans were friends, and based on their visits to Fallingwater, the Hagans hired Wright to design their home. Kentuck Knob was one of the last homes to be completed by Wright.

Kentuck Knob was designed in a hexagonal motif as a “Usonian” house. Linguists and historians believe the term was coined in 1903 by writer James Duff Law. In Here and There in Two Hemispheres, Law quoted one of his own letters, “We of the United States, in justice to the Canadians and Mexicans, have no right to use the title ‘Americans’ when referring to matters pertaining exclusively to ourselves.” He went on to propose the terms “Usonia” and “Usonian” and it appears that Wright picked it up. The first known published use by Wright was in 1927.

In Wright’s lexicon, it evokes his vision for the landscape of the United States—including city planning and all types of architecture—to distinguish the art form of the time from all previous architectural conventions. In his vision, affordable housing would be made widely and universally available by designing low-cost homes that used passive solar heating, natural cooling, natural lighting with clerestory windows, and radiant-floor heating. They were usually envisioned as one-story houses with flat roofs, and often in an “L” shape to fit around a garden terrace, merging the indoors and the outdoors for comfort and light. Characterized by locally-found native materials, they incorporated his passion for visual connections between indoors and outdoors by using lots of glass and basic, simple designs. The term “carport” was coined by Wright in connection with his Usonian vision, to indicate a minimalist shelter for a vehicle.

In Pleasantville, New York, there is a 1950s-era intentional community created on the Usonian model, which is now an historic district. Wright designed 3 of the 47 homes in the Pleasantville community.

Likewise Kentuck Knob incorporated the Usonian vision by being single-story, low-cost, and designed to take advantage of radiant floor heating and passive solar gain. The hexagonal proportions of each and every room makes for fascinating decorating and furniture choices and designs. 

Again, we were unable to take photographs inside, but the exterior is interesting, with narrow windows on the “public” side of the home, that are made more private with the addition on the outside of a repeating pattern cut into some of the beautiful red cypress wood from which much of the interior is made. The central “heart” of the home is the kitchen, from which all the rest of the rooms “radiate.” Modest in square footage, the kitchen “ceiling” reaches up to the roof, which is the source for light, having a glass ceiling. A retrofit of screening helped the kitchen from becoming too hot to stand in. Wright intended for there to be only natural light in the kitchen, which made it impractical for cooking at night, so another change by the owners was pretty neat countertop lighting and fixtures ahead of their time.

Along the back of the house stretches a long porch offering solar gain in the wintertime, and shade in the summer, with through-holes in the overhang roof so the winter sun could melt the snow/ice on the porch floor, but also offer lovely “rain spouts” during summer to unite the interior with the weather and surroundings.

When the Hagans lived in the home (full time) there was a spectacular view from that back porch. There is debate about whether to cut the now-grown trees to re-kindle that view from the house, but it’s only a short walk to an open area (available for weddings, etc) from which visitors can take in that view.

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And all along the way, and everywhere around the property, high and low, is outdoor art, sculptures, wind chimes, and wonders. At the “bottom” before the shuttle takes visitors up to the house, and all around the house itself are beautiful and interesting sculpture walks that visitors are encouraged to wander.

From Ohiopyle to Confluence is only about 11 or 12 miles, so we puttered on along the last of the GAP trail that follows the Youghiogheny River. At Confluence, the Yough is channeled into an enormous recreational lake of the same name. Where the Yough River, the Casselman River, and Laurel Hill Creek merge is the town appropriately named Confluence. From here eastward, the GAP follows the Casselman River.

Among our options for the day was a cycle to the dam that tames the Youghiogheney River. But we were all pretty worn out, so Allen drove us over in Minnie van. An enormous spume of water was gushing out of the dam, and the locals who were there to see this anomaly reported that they’d never seen so much water being released from the lake at once. Directly below the dam is the “Outflow Campground” which appeared to be in serious jeopardy, if they were releasing so much water to ease stress on the dam. 

We also heard that the remains of Hurricane Florence were due to reach the area, that night and the next day, adding to the burden left by Gordon the week prior. So the release was in anticipation of a night and a day of additional rain.

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We overnighted in a “guest house” in a nice neighborhood—part Air BnB and part small Inn—and the group enjoyed a single malt whisky tasting hosted by Allen, after having dinner on the porch at the Lucky Dog Cafe (I needed some bug spray to have been able to fully enjoy our meal) which served delicious Mexican-inspired food.

Tomorrow: Riding through Florence (to Meyersdale)

Bike Stats:

  • Ride time: 2.5 hours
  • Stopped time: 6.5 hours
  • Distance: 30
  • Average speed: 11.75MPH
  • Fastest speed: 21MPH
  • Ascent: 388 ft
  • Descent: 0

 

GAP 5 Part 2: To Connellsville

September 15, 2018

Before we left West Newton, in the Ruritans’ reclaimed rail car, we learned about some of the sights we were to see along our way toward Connellsville. There’s a lot of history along the GAP trail that is worth at least a fleeting glance, so a rider can understand the context of the trail’s roots and bones, rising from its origin as a railroad bed.

When talking about The Ruins Project in the most recent post, I mentioned the town of Whitsett (MP 103). As a traditional “company town,” Whitsett is a living example of the “cracker-box” houses that were owned by the company, along with the infamous “company store.” In the song Sixteen Tons, the singer says, “I owe my soul to the company store”—not an uncommon situation in which many of the coal mine workers found themselves. Because goods in the company store were tremendously expensive, most miner families had to buy food and goods on credit, ending up owing the mining company more than their wages, and plunging them into indentured servitude.

But Whitsett is known for another reason: the populace is extremely proud that the town has always been an integrated community. Neighbors in Whitsett have watched out for and stood by one another through many hard times. The floods of 1936, ’54, and ’72, plus two train derailments (1947 & 1974) brought distress to the families of Whitsett. But the town has become more closely-knit, and today is known, among other things, for generating some of the finest amateur baseball teams known.

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Early in our ride, I stopped to see this marked feature along the trail (marked with a post and the words “Mailbox Formation”). It was pretty cool.

The Tufa

A tufa is a rare formation of limestone that grows out of fresh water seeping through the ground outside of a cave (as the water warms, calcium carbonate emerges and fossilizes, covering anything it falls upon, drip by drip). It’s like the deposits found in caves (stalactites and stalagmites) but without the protection of the surrounding rock. A tufa is exposed to and vulnerable to the elements.

To teachers, students, and naturalists interested in geology, it is a delicate outdoor classroom—it’s difficult to ‘get’ geology indoors because of its scale (this tufa stands 37 feet tall). To archeologists, the tufa is a scrapbook: layers upon layers of calcium salts have trapped the history of the last 18,000 years. Every day, something else disappears (and is preserved) under the constant, slow, drip, drip. For example, dust from passing trains in the 30s; from distant volcanic eruptions; even from the first atomic tests in the 40s—could be recovered and studied, telling tales and stories intimate to the era in which it has been preserved.

As such, the tufa is vulnerable to destruction by curious visitors, fertilizer runoff, logging activities, pipelines, and exploration. Therefore, not many of the locals let folks like us know exactly where it is, because its fragile situation is quite close to the trail. Happily, it is difficult to see and to find, and it’s on private property. 

I did try to find something like what I’d read about and seen in an old newspaper article. But what I saw and photographed (and intentionally left off here) might simply have been a slow-moving spring polluted by a long-gone mining operation. I mention it because it’s interesting, but I leave the photo out so the tufa won’t be destroyed by folks as curious as I am.

Coke ovens

In the industry’s heyday, hundreds of these beehive-shaped ovens would be burning, all in a long row (for ease of loading coal from rail cars into the ovens; and then for transfer of the coke back to rail cars to head up to Pittsburgh for steel-making). Elder residents can remember the coke ovens lighting up the night sky. The area around MP 89 and Connellsville became known as Dante’s Inferno.

A fellow named Cochran, who lived in nearby Dawson, had discovered how to make coke from coal around the 1840s. The key was a small, dome-shaped oven, modeled after bread ovens. For nearly 100 years afterward, coke ovens (also called “beehive ovens”) were in use along the Yough River (until about 1930). Cochran’s method was the biggest industrial discovery ever made along this section of the GAP trail, and resulted in the greatest number of millionaires per capita residing in the geography between Connellsville to Perryopolis than anywhere in the United States. At one time, 13,000 bushels of coke were boated from Connellsville to Cincinnati.

Here’s a brief primer on coal, coke, and steel.

Bituminous coal (black coal) is relatively soft, and contains a tar-like substance called bitumen (asphalt). Bituminous coal is of higher quality than lignite coal; yet it is of poorer quality than anthracite.

If it is to be used for many industrial processes, bituminous coal must first be “coked” to remove the volatile components. Coking is achieved by heating the coal in the absence of oxygen (to the extent possible), a process which drives off hydrocarbons (for example propane & benzene among others) as well as sulfur gasses. Much of the water in bituminous coal is also driven out during carbonization.

While the coal is heating in the “beehive oven” in a very low-oxygen environment, it softens, allowing the volatiles escape through its pores. When cooled, the resultant coke has swollen (as compared to how it began) resulting in a larger volume—contrary to what we know to be typical of burning, where the end result is most frequently a much smaller volume than what was burned in the first place.

Coke (also called metallurgical coal) is used in the manufacture of steel, where carbon fuel must be as volatile-free and ash-free as possible. The strength and density of coke is particularly critical when used in a blast furnace. In steel-making, the coke is not only a fuel but also a reactant in the steel-making blast furnace.

In steel making, impurities (nitrogen, silicon, phosphorus, sulfur, and excess carbon) are removed from raw iron ore. At the same time, alloying elements like manganese, nickel, chromium, and vanadium are added, which produce different grades of steel. The use of coke in the furnace also limits impurities (termed “inclusions”) in the steel, which is also critical to ensure the quality of products cast from molten steel.

This is how the “beehive ovens” worked: A fire brick chamber shaped like a dome, typically ~13 ft. wide and ~8 ft. high, was used to make coke. The roof had a hole for introducing the coal and other kindling from the top. 

In the lower part of the wall was an opening (with a door) through which the coke was removed. In a coke oven battery, a number of ovens were built in a row with common walls between neighboring ovens. An average battery consisted of a great many ovens, sometimes hundreds, in a row.

Bituminous coal was introduced from above to an even layer of about 25 to 35 inches deep. Initially, air (and sometimes kindling material) must be supplied to ignite the coal. Carbonization (burning) then began, producing the volatile gases, which subsequently burned inside the oven, providing both the heat as well as the oxygen-free carbonization environment required to make coke.

Carbonization happened from top to bottom of the layer of coal, and was completed in 2 or 3 days. Because the heat was maintained by the ignited and igniting volatiles, no useful by-products of the burning were recovered. Exhaust gasses were allowed to escape to the atmosphere.

The hot coke was then quenched with water and removed manually through the side opening. The walls and roof of the beehive oven retained enough heat to ignite the carbonization process for the next layer of 25-35 inches of bituminous coal.

Impurities not driven off and/or burned as gasses accumulated to form “slag.” Basically, slag is the accretion of those removed impurities not burned, evaporated, or discharged out the roof hole. In the early days of coke-making, slag was simply an unwanted by-product and was discarded into enormous piles. Later, it was found to have some use, as an ingredient in brick-making, mixed cement, and granule-covered shingles.

The man who discovered this process, Cochran, lived in Dawson, and we rode across the river to see the town. Possibly due to the floods of Gordon, but possibly because its a dying community, we found a ghost town. But we did see the well-maintained former Cochran home.

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Much of the area, however, looked like this elderly structure, which some intrepid soul had once tried to turn into a shop-filled destination.

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Another ambitious person had tried to set apart his/her home, sited right next to the active rail road, by painting it purple.

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This neon-colored house was difficult to miss.

There was a pretty church in the town, and the sign outside said there were Tiffany windows preserved within. We didn’t get inside, so we couldn’t see the windows.

As we were riding toward the bridge back across the Yough, another interesting home with a wrought-iron fence around it caught our attention. In one of the gate “posts” was an active honey bee hive. We thought it was quite appropriate to see these gentle workers after seeing the coke ovens, and considering the mosaic of the “beehive” oven we discovered at The Ruins Project (see my post here).

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We passed under the glass arch into Connellsville around lunch time. Since the demise of the coal and steel industries, Connellsville has re-made itself as a glass making center.

We rode into town to the Connellsville Canteen—site of a railroad stop-over for troop trains heading with soldiers toward the ports from which they’d ship to fight in WWII. Mrs. Rose Brady, founder of the Canteen, organized 600+ women volunteers between the ages of 21 and 80 to offer warm, healthy food and smiles to troops heading to fight. The Canteen served more than a half-million servicemen and women between April 1944 and April 1946, an average of 3,500 people every week.

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The place had lots and lots of WWII memorabilia, photos, icons, stories, and objects donated to the “museum” by Connellsville residents. It is a very personal museum dedicated to honoring the military men and women and their families who haled from Connellsville. We ate an excellent meal, before which we were invited to go see the elaborate HO-gauge train town set up in a back room.

Sept. 15 was a great ride full of interesting stuff, topped off with excellent meals including a hole-in-the-wall, local Italian dinner at Ruvo’s Italian Restaurant. Well worth the discovery. 

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We slept for the night at the Cobblestone Hotel and Suites, just off the trail, complete with a bike-washing station and free towels to wipe the bikes down after their rinse.

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Bike Stats:

  • Ride time: 2:30
  • Stopped time: 5:00
  • Distance: 29.3 miles
  • Average speed: 11.75MPH
  • Fastest speed: 17.8MPH
  • Ascent: 301 ft.
  • Descent: 77 ft.

Next up: Connellsville to Confluence