A destination steeped iN HISTORY
The Historic Wigwam Western Summit
The history of the Wigwam Western Summit is intricately tied to the history of the Mohawk Trail. Native Americans first used the Mohawk Trail (now Route 2) to travel through the northern Berkshires between the Hudson and Connecticut rivers. Today, a drive east 4.5 miles along Route 2 from North Adams past the “Hairpin Turn” to the top of the ridge brings you to the Wigwam Western Summit. There, with unparalleled views of three states, lies the historic Wigwam cabins. Known as the "America's Switzerland" in the 1920's, the stunning view captures imaginations and inspires poets, artists and musicians since the early 1900's. At sunset, the beauty of the sun disappearing into the Taconic mountain range while casting an orange veil over the sky is a vision of romantic dreams.
The origin of the Wigwam is highly unusual for the beginning of the 20th century, as the early automobile-tourist gift shop and observation tower came about through the investment of four women: Theresa, Helen, Mary and Elizabeth Mansfield who in 1913 bought the site when the Mohawk Trail was still being constructed across the Hoosac Mountain peaks. The four were sisters, born in nearby Stamford, Vermont but moved to North Adams as a family prior to 1895.
Beginning in the 1920’s the Mansfield sisters ran the shops in the summer and spent their winters in Florida. Helen managed the Wigwam and in 1925 built the manager’s house on the site as the sisters’ summer home. GH. Stebbins was the builder. 1925 was a turning point for the success of the Wigwam. In 1924 Arthur Tauck, Sr, a New Jersey bank teller turned salesman, stopped for lunch at the Wigwam during the fall and as he admired the views from the gift shop, he got the idea of starting a guided tour business beginning with fall foliage tours. He thought that the foliage tours were a good place to begin as few outsiders knew the area well enough to travel it without a guide.
His first tour was launched the following year, taking guests in a rented 1924 Studebaker for six days in an all-inclusive $69 tour through New Jersey, upstate New York, Connecticut and in Massachusetts along the Mohawk Trail. When on the Mohawk Trail, Tauck often brought his tours to the Wigwam for lunch. The Tauck tours launched not only the Tauck travel business – inspired by the view from the Wigwam – but also precipitated the foliage tourist boom along the Mohawk Trail thereby extending the tourist season for its merchants. Until the 1930’s the site consisted of the log-cabin styled original gift shop where tourists could also eat, the observation tower which they climbed to get a spectacular view, a building added beneath the tower between 1915 and 1925, and the house for the Mansfield sisters.
With the extended tourist season, profits rose and in 1934 the Mansfield applied to the City to change the use of their property and to replace some of the buildings on the site. The cabins, outhouse and garage were built to expand the site as a guest stopover. They used the 1925 house as their residence, as a tea room, and an overnight guest dining hall. The public could get a meal in the Wigwam gift shop. By 1939 their guest business had prospered to the point that they applied for a permit to feed tourists as well as their own guests in a new dining room. After several hearings of the North Adams Planning Board, a new dining room building was approved (demolished in 2003), and it is likely that the original Wigwam gift shop was demolished and the new Wigwam gift shop built in a concerted expansion to meet the rising number of tourists. During WW II the Western Summit was kept running, although the sisters ran into trouble with the rationing board by using too much gasoline for their car. But the lack of tourism probably took a toll, and they first sold their two gift shops in Greensfield and North Adams in the early 1940’s. They held on to the Wigwam Western Summit, which was clearly their largest property, until 1946 when they sold it to Theron H. Perkins and Elsworth Ott of North Adams.
Theron Perkins and Elsworth Ott were colleagues at the Brewer Brothers Auto Sales in North Adams where Perkins was the Vice President and General Manager and Ott the Sales Manager. Perkins had become involved in the developing the Mohawk Trail in the 1930’s when he helped start a Mohawk Trail convention sponsored by auto dealerships in the area. He was very active in North Adams in Rotary, the Congregational Church, Community Chest and the Hospital Fund, so it was not unexpected that he would take a leadership role in the newly-formed Mohawk Trail Association as Chairman in 1953, then President in 1955. The partnership between the two men deepened when Elsworth Ott and his brother Norman married two of Theron Perkins’ daughters Ann and Marie. The Wigwam Western Summit remained in their partnership until 1957. During that period they hired managers to run the business on site. In 1957 they sold the restaurant to Helen and John R. Kelsey who had managed the property for a few years. The Kelseys sold the restaurant in 1968 to Rhode Island resident Luther Benson. At Theron Perkins death in 1971 the balance of the property went to his heirs who then sold it.
The buyers, Inna and Hans-Werner Gertje, bought the guest cabins, gift shop, and house in 1975 and ran the cabins and shop for 30 years. During their ownership the business survived, but the site underwent significant change. By the 1980’s the observation tower was beginning to deteriorate, and the cost of material for its repair and for maintaining liability insurance forced them to demolish it in 1981-1982. When the Gertjes first purchased the property they had rented out ten cabins, but by the early 2000’s only six were still being rented and several were demolished. The restaurant, which was located in a building near the large parking lot at the present site, was not profitable, so the building was razed in 2003.
While owning the Wigwam, Inna Gertje served as president of the Mohawk Trail Association, a regional tourism authority of twenty of the thirty years that they were contributing members. It was during her tenure that the Association in 1984 spearheaded a 70th-anniversary celebration of the opening of the Mohawk Trail. The celebration included a commemorative edition of the North Adams Transcript Newspaper that reproduced articles written about the Trail’s grand opening in 1914. The celebration included a dinner in North Adams that was attended by more than one hundred local and state dignitaries and followed the same banquet menu as that offered at the gala dinner in 1914. The gift shop was well known for Hans’ homemade fudge and other confections that became popular gifts. Tourist business along the Mohawk Trail, however, slowly diminished. A further decline was noted when the race track in neighboring Vermont closed. Retiring, the Gertjes sold the property to Stephen and Karen Andrews in 2004.
The Andrews operated the gift shop and rented the cabins until 2008. Karen was meticulous and did the cabin turnover herself while Stephen tended the store and took care of the property. The Wigwam Gift Shop sold the same Native America souvenirs, t-shirts and fudge reported made on the original fudge-making equipment used by the Gertjes’s as the Andrews bought the entire store inventory from the Gertjes. In 2009 they sold the 36-acre property to the Berkshire Natural Resources Council (BNRC). A county-wide land trust, the BNRC was particularly interested in the undeveloped acres that would link up with approximately 700 acres it had purchased on the Hoosac Mountain Range to the south.
In 2010, the BNRC subdivided approximately 3.9 acres of the site that included the Wigwam buildings and sold it to Nancy Fitzpatrick, owner of Country Curtains, the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge and co-owner of The Porches Inn in North Adams. Personally interested in historic sites, it was her intention to reopen the gift shop and renovate the cabins. The cabins were planned to feature comfortable furnishings, private baths, wood stoves, refrigerators and coffee making facilities. Unable to renovate the cabins and the house as planned, Fitzpatrick sold the property to Colleen and Roger Hurst in 2014. The gift shop, closed since 2009, re-opened for one season in 2014 and sold Native American souvenirs and antiques.
The property went back on the market in the winter of 2014 and sat vacant until August 2018. Wayne Gelinas introduced the property to Lea King during a trip to Vermont to attend Wayne's grand daughter's birthday party and Lea fell in love with the Wigwam immediately. She bought the property with the goal of renewing it into a destination in the Berkshires.
Lea is a retired tech executive from Silicon Valley and has worked in Europe, Asia, China and India. Known as a mentor to up and coming leaders in the technology sector, Lea is passionate about restoring historic properties and building communities. She was the Executive Director of Silicon Valley Talent Partnership and worked over 30 years in leadership positions for General Electric, AT&T and Cisco. She was the Managing Director for Cisco's Internet Business Consulting business in Asia Pacific for 14 years and worked as Managing Director for AT&T's Global Clearinghouse based in Hong Kong. She received her MBA in International Finance from George Washington University. Fluent in English, Mandarin and Spanish she double majored in Mathematics and Spanish from the University of Virginia. Lea is concurrently the CEO of Creative Spaces LLC which rents creative spaces (including yurts) for major events. After the first Cars & Coffee event on October 13, 2018 Lea was convinced the only way to succeed with the Wigwam is to jump in with both feet. With her partner Wayne as the Operations Director, the pair moved into the Wigwam house. With her vision and Wayne's interest in turning the Wigwam into a place people can gather to enjoy the view, they are bringing the Wigwam back to life! Today you can find Lea either making soup, baking a cake or sitting down to listen to locals telling stories about the Wigwam. The to-do list for Wayne is never ending and they both consider it a privilege to be the stewards of the Wigwam and are restoring it for future generations.