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Summit County pioneers: Gertrude Philippe

By Alison (Grabau) Pomerantz
Special to the Summit Daily News
Gertrude Philippe in 1999.
Courtesy Bob Winsett

FRISCO — What began as a fun, weekend getaway about 75 years ago — just a small cabin in the woods — has since transformed into so much more. It has become a home full of memories, experiences and a legacy to pass on to a new generation.

During World War II, Gertrude Philippe was hired as a civilian in a small arms ammunition division of Remington Arms while her husband, Frank, was stationed in Sacramento as a member of the United States Army Signal Corps. When he was transferred to Camp Livingston in Louisiana, Gertrude joined him, explaining that she “was bored and didn’t want to sit around. It just isn’t my style. So even though I had no experience working with guns, the recruiter saw ‘small arms’ on my record and took me in.” 

She added that it was to her benefit that she was good at memorizing parts. Again, when they were transferred to Camp Shanks, New York, they needed money, and Gertrude wanted something to do.

In 1946, Gertrude Philippe and her husband Frank became an anomaly among their friends in Denver. Very few people immediately following World War II were second-home owners. 

“It was not so fashionable then,” Gertrude admitted, explaining that she and her husband led such an active social life in Denver that they were searching for a place they could escape. A place to “get away from it all” and do all the things they loved to do, such as horseback riding.

The Philippes originally came to Summit County to visit Elmer Swanson and his family one weekend. Elmer owned the store and property that would later become Foote’s Rest, after he sold to Helen and Bob Foote. With Elmer’s encouragement, Gertrude and Frank went in with Gertrude’s sister Sarah and John Finesilver to purchase six lots in Frisco for a total of $150 ($25 each) and then celebrated ownership by going fishing. While fishing might seem like a humorous way to acknowledge the purchase of mountain property, it was a favorite pastime of the Philippes. They preferred Wheeler Ponds and Rainbow Lake to the Blue River and always caught their limit of brook and rainbow trout.

“We would pan-fry fish in our outdoor fireplace,” Gertrude said. “It was one of the first things we built because we loved to cook over an open flame, and we didn’t have a stove until we finished the cabin.”

When they were ready to begin building, Elmer had made arrangements for the U.S. Forest Service to mark logs, including a 30-foot ridge pole, to be used in the construction of their cabin. Possessing many useful skills in the ways of the mountains, Elmer advised that they build their house with their front porch facing south to prevent too much snow from accumulating. Gertrude and Sarah hand-peeled all of the logs. They also gathered and washed all the rocks for the fireplace but hired someone to build it. Their basement was so cool, Gertrude could store milk or other perishables down there and they would keep. It wasn’t until 1981 that they installed a furnace exclusively as a heat source. Even during the winter they relied on the fireplace. Her son Rob, later used the cabin as his primary residence, has since added a master bedroom and kitchen, among other modern conveniences, onto the original cabin. Later he added four more bedrooms, three baths and a library.

The cabin built by the Philippes in 1946 before the building of Frisco Street.
Courtesy Gertrude Philippe

“There really wasn’t any help up here, and we were amateurs,” Gertrude said. They dug their own well, but it was shallow — only 8 or 10 feet — so they used an outhouse. Each year, they would get their water tested for contaminates to make sure it was safe. Through a friend’s generous donation of a coal-burning stove, the two families always had hot water.

“I thought it was rugged here with all the deer and the mountain lions,” Gertrude said. “I liked to hike, fish, and I have always loved the mountains. We were outdoor people. We came here to get away from the world.” 

She remembers crying when they put the road in, which was before skiing really entered Summit County. She had always felt like their cabin was a glorified version of camping when they came up from Denver. 

“I knew we were no longer camping when the street light was put in,” Gertrude said.

Gertrude Philippe, third from the left in the front row, and crew at the cabin in 1946.
Courtesy Gertrude Philippe

Not a dull moment

While they maintained a primary residence in Denver and visited Summit Country on weekends, the Philippe’s do have strong ties to the Rocky Mountain heritage. Frank’s great grandfather Solomon Philippe, a saloon owner, came to Leadville in the 1800s. In keeping with this spirit of western exploration, Gertrude and Frank loved to go off-road in their ’46 Willys Jeep, driving as high as the roads would take them. They would wander around Peak 10 and the Briar Rose mine before anything was there, often collecting bottles and other items that had been discarded by the miners that had ventured onto the land before them. They covered an entire wall with pioneer memorabilia. One prized piece they uncovered was an old cowbell that Gertrude would ring standing on her porch in order to get her two boys inside for dinner.

“We came up almost every weekend and every spring break, driving over Loveland Pass, which was still a dirt road,” said Gertrude, who also described some harrowing journeys when someone had to walk out in front of the car to help them from running off the road during near whiteout conditions. Gertrude would often come up with the children during the week, as well, and then Frank would join them on weekends when he had completed work at the Columbia Press, which he owned. 

A self-described “city gal,” Gertrude reminisced about her time in Summit County. 

Frank Philippe working on the Frisco cabin.
Courtesy Gertrude Philippe

“It is just a great place to be,” Gertrude said. “We’re here by choice. If we didn’t like it, we would have never come at all and put forth all this time and effort. I guess it never occurred to me at first to live here full time.”

In the winter months, Gertrude and her family enjoyed snowshoeing, both for recreation as well as necessity. 

“We purchased a few pairs of snowshoes at the Army surplus store because the snow was so deep,” Gertrude said. 

When they were bringing loads of groceries or other items into the house, they often used a sled. Beginning with ski areas at Arapahoe Basin, followed by Breckenridge and then Keystone, it was an exciting time to watch Summit County being transformed into a recreation paradise. 

“We were very enthusiastic about skiing,” Gertrude said. 

Gertrude (Miller) Philippe in 1935.
Courtesy Gertrude Philippe

Looking back

Her son Rob, born in 1949, became a commercial real estate developer and had the vision to purchase property on Main Street in Frisco in anticipation of the growth potential of ski country. He purchased all the land on Main Street from the ReMax real estate building, which once was Sue Chamberlain’s former house, all the way to the corner where the Frisco Hotel is located. Among his first projects was the construction of the restaurant/bar Charity’s that existed for 18 years until the late 1990s, when the bar underwent new ownership and became Tuscato’s. Rob later won awards for historic restoration for his work on an 1875 locomotive, the oldest in the state, that was stored in his antique barn as well as for work on an 1881 Pullman car that once ran through Frisco. In the late ’90s, Rob and his mother had 60 permanent tenants leasing property from them. Gertrude handled all the bookkeeping, a skill she acquired from a talented auditor who worked with the family company. 

“If we had bought land instead of printing presses, we’d have been better off,” Gertrude said, reflecting on career choices with the present knowledge of Summit County’s real estate boom and the increase in land values.

When Frank retired, he and Gertrude volunteered with the International Executive Service Corps, an organization of retired executives who volunteer to give expertise to other executives in developing countries. From 1974-1984, they traveled to Mexico, Venezuela, Columbia, Indonesia and Trinidad. Gertrude also volunteered with the American Women’s organizations of these countries doing various projects. 

After Frank died, Gertrude remarried in 1987 to concert violinist and music instructor Bert Naster. At one point in his career, he played with the Denver Symphony during his 53 years of orchestra performance. 

“Part of our prenuptial agreement was that Gertrude learn how to ski,” Bert joked. 

With a smile, thinking of all the fun she and her family had in their Summit Country refugee, Gertrude said, “When I die, no one will be able to say I led a dull life.”

Editor’s note: Gertrude Philippe died in November 2008 at age 91.

This story previously published in the book “Summit Pioneers,” which was printed in 1999. The book was written by Alison (Grabau) Pomerantz with photos by Bob Winsett in partnership with Wilson-Lass Creative Communications. It was published to raise money for The Summit Foundation. Read more about the history of Summit County at SummitDaily.com/news/history.


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