Oak n' Spruce
South Lee, MA
1947-Mid 1980's

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, numerous chicken coops two school houses and a farm house for the caretaker and approximately 300 acres.

Frank Prinz at age 30 when he started the resort.

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 stylePlayboy 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 dude ranch, 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 physical fitness center.

(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 Tanglewood Music Festival.  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 ski 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 lawn 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.

(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 indoor swimming pool, 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 Beartown State Forest 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.

Left - 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 State forest 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 Santa Barbara).. 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

Year Lifts Trails Other Info Source
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)

Personal Memories:

Maria Robarge: 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.

Additional Pictures

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.

2006 Pics


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 run it.

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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