LAURELS FOR HARDY
Written by Elliot Greene
The story of Nemacolin Woodlands Resort is an "only in America" yarn that weaves through the rich tapestry of Joseph Hardy's life and encompasses family, tenacity, ingenuity, and conviviality. The resort is a property that defies categorization and truly offers something for everyone. Do you prefer château-inspired, Tudor-style, or Arts and Craft architecture? It's all here. Do you prefer a multi-course fine-dining experience with expertly paired wine, or slurping a malt in a 50s-era soda shop? Here, you can have both. And, whether you are an adrenaline junkie who also dabbles in painting, or someone who enjoys spa pampering and cutting-edge holistic treatments geared at nudging back the hands of time, this is the place for you.
The land where Nemacolin sits is bisected by southwest Pennsylvania's Historic National Road Corridor, part of the nation's first multi-state, federally funded highway that began as a pathway developed by the Delaware Indians. For American history buffs, the area is a cornucopia of significant sites.
Starting in the early 1900s, the Laurel Highlands became "the place" to build a country retreat among Pittsburg-area elites, including industrialist Willard F. Rockwell. His initial 60-acre purchase grew into the Nemacolin Trail Hunting Game Reserve, a private game reserve
named for Delaware Indian Chief Nemacolin. When the property came up for auction in 1987, Joseph A. Hardy, III, founder of the 84 Lumber Company, attended intending to purchase a few acres near a lake or stream for his daughter Maggie, who loved to fish. After buying 550-acres, he and Maggie (who assumed the reigns at 84 Lumber in 1992 and became president and owner of Nemacolin in 2002), have since worked tirelessly to transform the property into a 2,000-acre world-class destination resort.
"The Hardy family's strong ties to this place make us stronger as an organization," said Tom Smith, Director of Resort Culture. Staff at all levels speak affectionately of Maggie, who, along with her father, keeps a home on the property. During our visit, we heard numerous tales of Maggie's under-the-radar generosity.
Nemacolin offers five distinct lodging options, totaling 323 rooms. At the top is Falling Rock, a 42-room boutique property that has the distinction of being the only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond hotel in Pennsylvania. Opened in 2004, the design of the hotel, which overlooks the Mystic Rock golf course, pays homage to legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright's famous Fallingwater residence is a scenic 20-minute drive away, and guests have access to a fleet of BMWs for day trips. Falling Rock's distinctive triangle-shaped balconies provide an ideal vantage point to observe the magical morning mist as it tickles the treetops of the surrounding hillsides.
Dedicated butler service and a bath soak menu at Falling Rock makes it easy to take advantage of the room's 200-gallon soaking tub (ideally while enjoying the nightly delivery of milk and cookies). "One of the things that makes this place so special is the personal relationships our repeat guests have with the butlers," said Kory Young, Director of Lodging.
Cutting a fine figure at the crest of a hill just past the entry gates, the 124-room Château Lafayette draws heavy inspiration from the Ritz Paris. Whereas Falling Rock is imbued with jewel tones and earthy aspects, the spacious guestrooms in Château Lafayette boast gleaming marble bathrooms, vaulted ceilings (20- feet in the first-floor suites!), and opulent crystal chandeliers.
Prominently positioned in front of the Château's portecochère is Fatbird, a chubby, cherubic sculpture by Fernando Botero. Maggie commissioned wildlife artist Barney Bollerhat to recreate it as the resort's official logo and mascot. The sculpture is a fitting introduction to the varied multi-million-dollar collection of art in all mediums on display inside and out. Daily art tours explore the collection, which encompasses everything from priceless Tiffany lamps to a graffitied chunk of the Berlin Wall.
Art-on-wheels is found in the Woodlands Auto Toy Store, home to a host of collector cars from the early 1900s onward, and in The Pride and Joy Airplane Hanger, whose most notable resident is a 1931 Pitcarin PA-8 once owned by Steve McQueen.
Comfortable lodging without amenities makes for a great place to stop but not to stay, and the more than 15 dining options and 70 year-round activities make Nemacolin a pleasant place to linger. "We have everything but the ocean," said Smith. It would take a novelette to adequately outline everything the resort has to offer, so for brevity's sake, I've chosen to spotlight specific aspects of our recent visit.
Dinner at Lautrec is a masterpiece of gastronomic theatre. Located in Château' Lafayette, it is one of only 30 restaurants in the world to hold the Forbes Five Star and AAA Five-Diamond awards simultaneously. The wood-paneled space itself is quite dramatic, outfitted with boldly patterned carpet, large scale Moulin Rouge artwork, and tables oriented around a central wine cellar. At the helm in the kitchen is Executive Chef Kristin Butterworth, an early pioneer of hyper-local dining.
Upon arrival, guests receive a large red envelope with a wax seal. Inside is an invitation from Chef Butterworth to try the "Leap of Faith" experience, in which diners select ten ingredients from an illustrated list for their seven-course meal (with or without expert wine pairings). Adventurous eaters can circle the question mark and let the chef decide the menu. For the not-so-bold, a seasonal prix fixe menu is also available.
A champagne and caviar cart inaugurates the experience. Even the oft-humble bread service is elevated, thanks to butter imported from France, local honey, and Sicilian olive oil (the truffle scones are exemplary). At the conclusion of our dining odyssey, we were given a chef-signed copy of the ingredients list as a souvenir.
Other standout dining options include classic steakhouse fare at Rockwell's in The Lodge and Aqueous in Falling Rock, where chef Erling Berner's menu is informed by what's fresh and local. Across all dining options, there is a conscious effort to highlight the indigenous foods of the Allegheny Mountains.
The Pete Dye-designed Mystic Rock and Shepherd's Rock golf courses present 36 holes of championship golf that are supported by a state-of-the-art Golf Academy. Affable pro Eric Johnson, a Golf Magazine's "Top 100 Teacher" since 2011, is equally patient with beginners as he is with more experienced players. Be sure to ask him for a demonstration of his impressive golf trick shots!
An off-road driving academy, zip lines, rock climbing wall, tennis, skiing, paintball, tubing, and snowshoeing are a few of the activities that fall under the umbrella of the Adventure Center and Sundial Lodge. The 140-acre Field Club boasts 35 stations and two five-stand sporting clay pavilions, along with an Orvis Fly Fishing Center with half- and full-day guided trips.
Treatments offered as part of the 40-room Woodlands Spa reflect the property's eclectic personality. The space itself is quite beautiful, including the expansive exercise room, which boasts a fireplace and a massive Calder-style mobile suspended from the vaulted ceiling. My Dream Catcher massage fused Native American therapies with the ancient Hawaiian ritual of Lomi Lomi for 105-minutes of bliss.
Taking rejuvenation to the next level is the Holistic Healing Center. Located next to Falling Rock, it allows guests to craft a personalized treatment plan to address issues ranging from circulation to cellulite. "We are constantly on the lookout for new high-tech equipment to supplement traditional healing modalities," said Katlyn Hatcher, Director of Spa and Wellness. At 96, Mr. Hardy visits the center twice a week for treatments and remains a driving force in investigating sustained paths to wellness. Personalized packages bundle therapies such as cryotherapy, acupuncture, float therapy, NovoThor PBM therapy, and chakra healing to manage individualized concerns.
Nemacolin builds on a tradition of hospitality and rejuvenation in the Lauren Highlands that spans generations. "There's something for everyone, but the experiences are uniquely different and tailored," said Young.
Rates at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort begin at $207/night.
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