Friday, June 6, 2014

Gallitzin Tunnels in Gallitzin, Pennsylvania

Hidden beneath the small town of Gallitzin, Pennsylvania lies an engineering feat many are completely unaware about. Passing the Allegheny mountains train bound was proving to be a difficult task for the engineers who were developing the railway systems. Many obstacles had to be overcome to manuever through this treacherous terrain. One of their final tasks to create a passage through these mountains was to construct tunnels. Getting through the steep grades in Gallitzin proved more difficult than anticipated, and the blasting began.

At an elevation of 2,167 feet the the New Portage tunnel was completed in 1854 and has been continuously in use ever since. A second tunnel, the Allegheny tunnel, with a length of over 1/2 a mile was also completed that same year. Eventually a third tunnel, named the Gallitzin tunnel was created to pass through the ridge in 1904. These tunnels were so dire to our transportation services that were guarded by armed security during the World Wars.

Railroad enthusiasts still flock to the rural area, and the adjacent park, to feel the massive power of the locomotives pushing their way through the mountains. Any given time of the day you will notice visitors on the overpass, cameras, and binoculars in hand just waiting for the raw power of a train engine to come roaring out of the tunnel and pass ferociously beneath their feet.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater

Hidden away in the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania lies one of Frank Lloyd Wright's greatest engineering masterpieces. Nestled quietly over a waterfall in the Allegheny mountains, Fallingwater is a modern home full of peace and serenity. The water that flows steadily underneath could soothe the most savage beast. The neighboring trees house the beauties of nature, and the whistling sounds of the birds who make them their home.

The house was built for retail owner Edgar Kaufman Sr., a prominent Pittsburgh businessman and owner of Kaufman's department stores. He had commissioned  Frank Lloyd Wright to begin building a home for him in 1935. The home was to be built on a piece of property the Kaufman's had owned in nearby Fayette county. Initially the property was to be built facing the waterfall that flowed over Bear Run, or so that was Kaufman's idea for the home. Always the innovator Wright had other ideas, he decided to design the home over the waterfall, making it part of the home itself. He also incorporated the large boulders that were spread throughout.

The building of the home turned out to be a constant challenge for all involved. Wright and Kaufman had numerous conflicts during the construction. Kaufman at one point had hired engineers to give him a report on the structure of the property. After receiving the reports Wright threatened to leave the project, eventually the reports were buried inside of a stone wall within the home. There were various arguments between the the crews on maintaining the stability and structural support of the home. Eventually the home was completed in Fall of 1937.

The home embraces the nature that surrounds it.  Windows line what should be walls, boulders become pieces of furniture, stairways lead to the stream below.  Open air balconies allow you to breathe in the fresh floral aromas, while feeling the refreshing splashes of the cascading waterfall below. Walls inside the home consist primarily of stone and window panes. Sunlight finds it way through large panes of glass while the stone encompasses the home like a cavern.

Wright designed angled windows that wrap around the corners of the home, and open outward to allow airflow and the sounds of nature to embrace the home.  A majority of the furniture in the home is built permanently into the structure, and was designed by Wright himself. Many consider it to be Wright's greatest achievement. Others believe its a giant money pit. Either way Fallingwater is a place that needs to be seen firsthand. It has been listed on numerous architectural achievement lists, as well as one of the best places to visit in America.