Autumn is the perfect time to take a road trip to the Laurel Highlands, where the journey is almost as interesting as the destination.
The winding roads, tidy farms and sun-dappled woodlands resplendent with fall colors are a wonderful reminder of the beauty of our state.
For Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiasts, the end of the road trip is no less inspiring. The labor of love known as Polymath Park in Acme, Pa., beckons visitors to learn more about the famous architect and his simple, stylish houses, deemed “Usonian.” These houses, unlike some of Wright’s better-known creations, such as the nearby Fallingwater, were designed especially for the American middle class.
Tom and Heather Papinchak are the husband-and-wife team behind Polymath Park. The couple moved into a home on the property in 2000 and lived there until 2008, when they decided to transform the structure into a full-service restaurant called Treetops for guests of Polymath Park.
In 2003, the Papinchaks had the opportunity to purchase two nearby homes and the 130 acres surrounding them. The dwellings were in danger of demolition, and the land eyed for development.
The couple jumped at the chance to save the houses that belonged to the Balter and Blum families of Pittsburgh, especially when they learned that they were designed by Wright protégé Peter Berndston. It didn’t hurt that Tom had a background in design and construction, which came into play as a hobby blossomed into a major project.
In 2006, the couple decided to move a Frank Lloyd Wright original onto the property. The Papinchaks learned that the Duncan House had been moved from Lisle, Ill., to Johnstown, Pa., by a group of investors who intended to rebuild it and develop a botanical garden. When the deal fell through, the structure made its way to the Papinchak’s Polymath Park.
A decade later, the couple embarked upon another ambitious endeavor, moving another Wright original that was in danger of demolition due to encroaching development. The structure, known as Mantyla, Finnish for “among the pines,” was built in the 1950s in Cloquet, Minn., for Ray and Emmy Lindholm. The house was listed for sale for almost a decade and sat empty for two years before Peter and Julene McKinney donated the structure to Usonian Preservation, Inc., the nonprofit group associated with Polymath Park. Everything was numbered and disassembled except for the concrete block, floor slab and roof rafters. The project was no small feat and clocked in at about 9,000 hours.
Peter McKinney, grandson to the Lindholms, said that he is pleased that the public will be able to enjoy the structure, and both he and his wife attended the grand opening in Acme last April.
“Without passion, we would not have been able to complete the job,” Papinchak said. “There were many people involved.”
Guests who visit Polymath Park can take a tour of three houses—the Duncan House, Mantyla and the Balter House. The hour-long tour takes visitors through the homes while a guide explains Wright’s vision and how the structures were saved from demolition.
Guests also can enjoy lunch or dinner at Treetops, the onsite restaurant nestled among the trees at Polymath. If the weather is nice, the outside deck is a lovely place to enjoy skillfully prepared and creatively plated dishes crafted with locally sourced ingredients. Those who crave a more immersive Wright experience can opt to stay overnight at any of the four houses.
The Wright immersion needn’t stop there.
Two other Wright properties—Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob—are located less than 30 miles away.
“Nature is my manifestation of God,” Wright once said. “I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day’s work.”
He said that he found inspiration in the landscape of Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands and, after visiting the area, it’s certainly clear why.
Polymath Park is located at 187 Evergreen Lane, Acme, Pa. Reservations for Treetops dining, tours and overnight accommodations can be made at www.franklloydwrightovernight.net.