A Destination Steeped in History
The Beauty of Wigwam Western Summit
A drive east 4.5 miles along the Mohawk Trail from North Adams brings you to the Wigwam Western Summit. "America's Switzerland" as it was known in the 1920s due to its scenic beauty that inspired poets, artists, and musicians.
At sunset, the beauty of the sun disappearing into the Taconic mountain range while casting an orange veil over the sky is a vision indescribable.
The First Ownership
As the first automobile-tourist gift shop in the 20th century, it came about through the investment of Mansfield sisters: Theresa, Helen, Mary, and Elizabeth, who in 1913 bought the site when the Mohawk Trail was still being constructed across the Hoosac Mountain peaks.
In the early 1920s, the Mansfield sisters ran the shop in the summer and spent their winters in Florida. Helen Mansfield managed the Wigwam and, in 1925, built the manager’s house on the site as the sisters’ summer home. GH. Stebbins was the builder. The year 1925 was a turning point for the success of the Wigwam Western Summit when Arthur Tauck, Sr, a New Jersey bank teller turned salesman, stopped for lunch at the Wigwam Western Summit during the fall. He admired the views from the gift shop and got the idea of starting a guided tour business beginning with fall foliage tours.
Arthur’s first tour was launched the following year, taking guests in a rented 1924 Studebaker for six days in an all-inclusive $69 trip through New Jersey, upstate New York, Connecticut, and in Massachusetts along the Mohawk Trail. When on the Mohawk Trail, Arthur often brought his tours to the Wigwam for lunch. 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.
By 1939, their guest business had prospered to the point that they applied for a permit to feed tourists, as well as their guests in a new dining room. During WW II, the Wigwam Western Summit was kept running, although the sisters ran into trouble with the rationing board by using too much gasoline for their car. The lack of tourism took a toll, and they first sold their two gift shops in Greensfield and North Adams in the early 1940s. They held on to the Wigwam Western Summit, which was their largest property, until 1946, when they sold it to Theron H. Perkins and Elsworth Ott of North Adams.
Changing Ownerships From 1930 to 2018
Theron had become involved in the developing the Mohawk Trail in the 1930s 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's 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 1980s, 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.
While owning the Wigwam, Inna Gertje served as President of the Mohawk Trail Association, and that’s when Inna spearheaded the 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. Later, when retiring, the Gertjes sold the property to Stephen and Karen Andrews in 2004.
Stephen and Karen 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 American 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). In 2010, the BNRC subdivided approximately 3.9 acres of the site that included the Wigwam buildings and sold it to Nancy Fitzpatrick. It was Nancy’s personal interest to open 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, Nancy 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.
About The Present Owners
The property 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. Lea is passionate about restoring historic properties and building communities. After the first Cars & Coffee event on October 13, 2018, Lea was convinced the only way to succeed with the Wigwam Western was 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 Western Summit into a place people can gather to enjoy the view, they are bringing the Wigwam Western Summit 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 Western Summit and are restoring it for future generations.