Saturday, March 2, 2013

Sierra Nevada Phillips

A Woman Called 'Vade'
By Paisley Kirkpatrick
Sierra Nevada Phillips was an energetic woman called Vade. She was a lady with a warm natural personality who did not know the meaning of the word 'impossible.' During her lifetime, Vade owned and operated many popular resorts in the Sierra. She was one of the best cooks in the area and had a large clientele who followed her wherever she went.
Vade and her parents left their home in Vermont in 1851 and traveled to the gold fields of California via the Panama route. The couple tried mining and then moved to El Dorado County, where they purchased 160 acres of beautiful meadowland near the American River. There was a heavy flow of traffic along the Great Bonanza Road to the Comstock, and in 1863, they built a two-and-one-half-story resort on their property. It was called Phillips Station and became one of the busiest stations along the dirt thoroughfare.
Vade learned to cook from her mother who had the reputation of preparing fine meals. She was determined to be the best cook in the Sierra, which proved to be true after she cooked her first meal one night when her mother wasn't available.
In 1884, she bought the primitive Rubicon Resort and Springs from the Hunsucker brothers, who were unable to cope with the heavy flow of guests. It was located in a wild, remote area with views, and a road that was little more than a mountainous trail. All her supplies had to be brought in by pack mule from barges on Lake Tahoe. Rebuilding the dilapidated resort was a difficult task. Vade, however, was a determined woman, and within three years she managed to erect a new and comfortable two-and-one-half-story hotel in the wilderness.
The establishment had 16 rooms, with curtains at the windows and an elegant parlor with fine furnishings. She renamed the resort, Rubicon Mineral Springs Hotel and Resort, and advertised the mineral water which was said to be 'better than whiskey.' Health seekers flocked in over the hazardous trail, and Vade added cabins and tents. The Rubicon spa was very popular with the wealthy Comstockers, and as the traffic increased, Vade realized the need for a better route to the springs. She went to El Dorado County and persuaded them to build a road to Rubicon. She sold the resort and moved back to her roots.
It took her a year to rebuild Phillips Station into a full-fledged resort with cabins, general store, cocktail lounge and campground. Phillips flourished and became known from coast to coast. The resort catered to families, and many returned every summer. In fact, some came so often that the cabins were named for various families. Among the notable guests listed in the register are former Secretary of State Frank Jordon and former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who was 12 years old at the time.
Vade had also been a postmistress all of her life. Wherever she went she opened a post office. When Phillips reopened, she went to the postmaster in Placerville requesting a post office for the old station. The name Phillips was taken by another location, so he told her to just call it 'Vade.'
Sierra Nevada Phillips died at 67, in 1921. She was one of the most dynamic women the Sierra had known. During her active lifetime, she went through the horse and buggy era into the mechanical age of today. And, although Phillips Station has been gone for years, a woman called Vade, who was respected throughout the Sierra, as Mrs. Hospitality, is fondly remembered.
Women of the Sierra by Anne Seagraves


  1. What a nice post, Paisley. I'd never heard of this remarkable woman. Thanks for another great post.

  2. Thanks, Caroline. I love hearing about the great ladies in the area where we live.

  3. Fascinating, Paisley. All this great posts about historical people, especially women, make me realize I would have been a total failure. No way could I have accomplished all that. Nor would I want to cook for so many people!

  4. I think you would have done very well, Celia. You wouldn't have known anything else at the time. We are so unappreciative of all the conveniences we take for granted.

  5. What a fabulous post. I could have never been able to do all of this. Wow is all I got to say.

  6. Thanks, Quilt Lady. She certainly did have the energy and drive of two. My hubby told me this morning we've driven right past the marker where the Phillips Resort used to stand. Next time I will pay more attention. :)

  7. Paisley, I got exhausted reading about Vade. LOLLOL What a woman she was! Very interesting post and I learned a lot about a woman I had never heard of, but SHOULD have, by all she did in her life!

  8. That's how I felt doing the post. I didn't even put all the infor into it because it would have been too long. She actually was married three times to boot. I imagine with her strong personality she might have intimidated the husbands.

  9. Oh, I love this area, Paisley. Thanks for telling us about this intruiguing woman.

  10. Thanks, Tanya. We live in some beautiful forests and mountains here. :)

  11. It just shows what women can do when they are determined to succeed. I really enjoyed this article, Paisley.

  12. I agree, the power of women once they get motivated is awesome. I didn't even put all the things she did in the article because it would have been too long. Thanks for stopping by.

  13. Hi Paisley,
    My name is Mary Jo Sonntag. I am related to Vade Phillips. Her father, JWD, and my great grandmother, Mary Louisa Phillips McConahy, were brother and sister. I have written a book enttiled, Write, If You Live to Get There, a collection of over 200 letters from the Phillips family from 1842 - 1962. It traces the Phillips family migration from Vermont to California. Would you be willing to have a phone conversation with me about Vade? This summer I will participate in the South Lake Tahoe Historical Museum's fundraiser called Chatautqua. I will play Vade in an historical reinactement and would like to learn as much as I can about her. I enjoyed your article and think you captured the spunk and determination Vade had. Thanks for your consideration. Mary Jo Sonntag -


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