Oak n' Spruce
History Listing by the Year Personal Memories Additional Pictures 2001 Pics 2006 Pics
Oak n' Spruce once offered beginners a place to learn on their very own slope and tow. The ski area and resort was founded by Frank Prinz and opened for skiing in the 1947-1948 ski season, after the resort opened in May of 1947. The area was simple, with a short rope tow on a beginner slope. The area was one of the first in the East to have snowmaking. Night skiing was available throughout its existence, giving skiers a chance to practice after dark. Other winter options including skating and tobogganing.
The ski area continued to operate until the mid 1980's when the resort was sold. In the 1990's an expansion at the resort excavated away half the slope.
All that remains today of Oak N Spruce is one rope tow tower, and an A Frame structure at the terminus of the lift. Part of this A Frame has been absorbed into a nearby tree.
Frank Prinz's brother Al operated the nearby Beartown Ski Area.
NELSAP has heard from Frank Prinz who was the founder of Oak n' Spruce! He supplied us with his history of the resort and photographs, which are below.
|My name is Frank J. Prinz and was the founder of Oak n' Spruce Resort. Originally, the property belonged to the Episcopalian Diocese of Western MA and run as the Ascension Farm School for Boys. Purpose to take orphans and wayward boys and to teach them to be farmers. The school closed in 1942 and put up for sale. It consisted of the main bldg which housed the boys and had private rooms for the staff, plus the barn for cattle, a wagon shed, numeroustwo school houses and a farm house for the caretaker and approximately 300 acres.||
|I purchased this run down property in the winter of 1946-47 and started major
renovations and opened up as a resort "Oak n' Spruce" the weekend of May
17,1947 . to a full house.
For accommodations there were two dorms with double deck bunks...The "Queen's"
room that held 32 women and the "King's room" that held 28 men, plus 4 rooms
with private bath, renovated kitchen, dining room with rustic tables and benches
to hold 80 persons,, lounge,, registration desk and office and sleeping room
for myself. The basement was renovated to a recreation hall.
(Left and right - aerial views of the area in the winter when purchased in early 1947)
|Two tennis courts (clay)
were built and the stream on the property was dammed up for swimming, or we took
the guests to the Lee Lime Quarry which was flooded for swimming. Plus, we
had bicycles and archery....and that was the beginning. The property was
purchased for $25,000 with $5,000 down and mortgage.
When O & S opened as a resort, it's clientele were young singles who would put up with bunk room accommodations and "no choice menus" served family style. Playboy magazine called O & S a "frenetic" resort. One of the most important staff members was the "social director" whose job was to plan morning, afternoon an evening activities. In the Berkshires, our competition was G-S a , Jug End Barn well established and Eastover that opened a week after O & S. We all offered recreational facilities, BYO bar and all meals included in the rate.
(Right - the beginner slope at Oak n' Spruce with snowmaking.
|O&S was very popular
and needed more accommodations, also it's guests were becoming fussy
and wanted better accommodations. So, trips to the local bank became
more common as the barn building was converted into 15 rooms with
private baths, The foundation of the wagon shed was used to build
six more rooms w/bath and then six more rooms were added to that.
Still, we needed more to keep up with our guests need, so in the
60's, the bank loaned us a half a million dollars to build 32 more
rooms w/ht bath and completely renovate the main bldg for a new
lounge, better dining room, modernize the kitchen, new offices and
registration center plus a
(Left - summit of the beginner slope).
|Among the three major
resorts in the
Berkshires, we were innovators. It may sound strange, but we
were first to offer wall to wall carpeting in the rooms, first to
put in air conditioning, and first to have TV's in the rooms. Also
first in packaging. i.e.., "Learn-to-ski' weekends, meeting groups
and conventions, Bus
tour packages of 3-day and 5-day stops. Then to we offered
bus groups a chicken bar-b-q mealtime as they took their tours to
. In this resort business, we had
off seasons with empty rooms. Our job was to fill them with this
type of business and we were very successful.
(Right - skiing from the top with view of the resort)
|As for the skiing, it
had a rope tow approximately 200' long powered by a converted car
chassis. The vertical drop of the
sprinkler heads. they kept on freezing up and if you made
two inches of snow a night you were lucky. then the Tropiano Bros
experimented with nozzles and Oak n' Spruce finally had a double
barreled gun that at times would put down as much as three feet of
snow in a night on its small slope.
was 80'...also, it was the first resort in the
country to install snow making by Joe Tropiano" (founders of the
snow making technique) In the 60's, there were 3 years of "snow
drought" that had resort and ski operators scratching their heads as
what to do to bring skiers to the area. One of Oak n' Spruce's
innovations was to cover the slope with mattress stuffing materials
and then cover this material with "ground up plastic poker chips".
The tow line was covered with a narrow blanket of nylon mesh. It
worked; however, the slope had to be raked every time a skier came
down. It was then, snow making was installed. The first nozzles
were rotating |
(Left - first snow gun purchased from Joe Tropiano).
|Right - a later snow gun.||
|Left - Snow Cannon and view of the resort.|
|Oak n; Spruce resort
also developed a "Learn to ski' package that was most popular. The
resort furnished skis, poles, boots, instructors, two nights
lodging, six meals and entertainment for one low price.
(Right - the Ski Lodge and rope tow base).
|Through the years, we
added more rooms w/private bath and our clientele changed from
"swinging singles" to couples (no families). We added two
clay tennis courts,
a par 3 nine hole golf course, an
, a new ski lodge and was the first
resort in the country to put in snowmaking. We changed from full
American plan to modified American plan since most of our guests
were out sightseeing the area during the day. We also bought an
additional 130 acres of land to the south of us and adjoining
with the idea of developing a major ski
area as part of our operation. This never materialized. Then we
start getting interested in "Time Sharing" and were approached by
Time Share operators, some were proved to be "fakers" until in the
summer of 1985 we were approached by "Diversified Resorts" time
share operators from Cape Cod. We checked their credentials and
they were legitimate.
more of the ski lodge and base of the tow.
|We sold them the
resort in Oct of 1985, but retained 250 acres of land that adjoined
Beartown State Forest. They made many changes and additions to O&S
converting the rooms into units suitable for time share operations.
After three years they sold the resort to another time share
operator who, after a year making no changes, it was sold again to "Silverleaf
Resorts" based out of Texas. They went hog wild and tore down many
existing units and put up three story structures all over the
property. Today, every acre of land north of Beartown Brook is
covered with buildings. (look them up on the internet). The resort
atmosphere is gone..
The 250 acres that I kept was later sold to the state and added to Beartown and gave them frontage on the Housatonic River.
Right - riding the rope tow.
|So I retired and moved to the
Santa Ynez Valley in
California (an area just 30 miles north of
).. I tried to start uo a bus tour business, but
the local hotels, etc were not interested. Then I worked for the
County of Santa Barbara for five years as a building engineer, but
they forced me to retire because of age ( I was over 70).
Then I joined the local chapter of the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Assoc) and built and flew my first experimental aircraft at the age of 70. Sold it and at the age of 80 built and flew another aircraft and sold it at age of 85. Today (at age of 92), the body is weak but the mind is still sharp so I do consulting work.
Left - Frank Prinz at age 92, still active!
Listings by the Year
|1949||300' rope tow||Beginner slope||Equipment for rent, located mile from Beartown area, instructor||Where to Ski|
|1953||Tow||Same||"A mile east of Beartown is the popular year-round resort, Oak 'N' Spruce, at South Lee, owned by Frank Prinz, Al Prinz's brother (of Beartown fame). Oak 'N' Spruce has its own ski tow and slopes and offers night skiing and skating under floodlights. Its on route 102, between Lee and Stockbridge."||Ski Time Magazine|
|1964||Tow||Novice slope||Ski School, packers, snowmaking||Eastern Ski Map|
|1971||Rope tow||2 slopes||Night skiing, toboggan run, sleighing, ice skating, dining room, cocktails, meals, rooms, dancing, ski rentals, instruction||MA-A Guide to the Pilgrim State (from Betsy McDonough)|
Back in the winter of 1960-61, I was a Freshman at Lowell State Teacher's
College. We went on a ski trip to the Oak 'n Spruce Lodge. Our group had many
mishaps. Some worse than others, including myself. It was then I decided that
skiing was not for me!
Here's Maria with her skis, with the ski slope in the background.
||Another view of Maria with the ski rack.|
|Other students on the trip, ski lodge in background.||
||The ski lodge, 1960-1961, from Maria.|
|A picture of a bunk room at Oak N Spruce, in 1953.||
|The novice slope at Oak 'N Spruce, the Berkshire's complete winter resort.|
|The view from the top of Oak 'N' Spruce. Tow is on the right, which starts at a likely ski lodge. Ice skating rink located just left of this lodge. Looks like a nice packed powder day!|
|Nearly the same view today! Rope tow tower and lift line on right. The bottom part of the slope has been excavated for the parking lot of the new condo type complex. Not much remains of the alpine ski complex at Oak N Spruce. Dec 8, 2001.||
||A closeup of the last remaining rope tow tower. Dec 8, 2001.|
|Looking up the slope. Rope tow tower is found in upper right. Dec 8, 2001.||
Dave Argueso stayed at the inn over Memorial Day weekend, 2006 and took the following pictures. He also has this update on the area:
|Anyhow, a lot has
changed since 2001, they have added an outdoor pool on the slope
side of the base lodge, plus have a basketball court behind pool and
next to both the pool and the court is an 18-hole miniature golf.
They have added more condos across the street from the base lodge
(Welcome Center) which is not listed on the resort map. The ski
slope was located up above Bldg #30 and sloped towards Bldgs #18-20.
The Rope tow started around the middle of Bldg #19.
To the right is a picture of the lodge.
|Looking down the old slope.|
|Now about the tow, the
original photo taken in 2001 of the tow tower is the same one I
photographed. The good news is I found the return tower about 30
yards beyond it. It is a tripod return wheel tower, as you can tell
with the overgrowth the tower has a pine tree growing next it. The
A frame structure if that was the lift house is now gone, all that
is left is the electrical outlet for the tow and the actual tow
rope. I checked with Beth Bacon, RCI Rep at the Resort on that, she
mentioned the tow line had been left up until about 8 years ago and
was used before that on and off whenever they were in the mood to
To the left is the tow tower that is still standing.
|A closeup of the tower.||
|The return for the lift, now in the woods.|
As for the Base Lodge, is it going through an extensive renovation on the interior, but all of the original base lodge is still in use. The first floor has a bar, movie theater, game room, and snack bar plus the main check-in center while all of the offices are upstairs on the second floor of the lodge. The exterior still looks the same with some modifications as you can see with the Check-In entrance where I photographed their sign.
All of the exteriors of the condo buildings have an Adirondack theme to them, very tastefully done.
To the right is the remnants of the tow rope.
|Entrance to the resort.|
(Top photo of "Sports Lodge in Berkshires courtesy Maria Robarge)
If you remember this area and have more info, just let us know.
Last updated: September 8, 2010
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