Tahoe and Vicinity February 4, 2023

A Sierra Nevada Tale

It seems like an early settler named Sierra Nevada would be well known around these parts, but the opposite is true. Few have heard of her.

Born in1854 in Nevada City, Sierra was four years old when her parents, John and Mehitable Phillips, decided to become inn-keepers. The little family moved to a property about two and a half miles from Echo Summit, and there, they built a two-story hotel along with five barns, establishing Phillips Station. The Station catered to everyone using the popular, heavily traveled Bonanza Road between Placerville and Virginia City.

Vade, as she was called, grew up in the family business, and the skills she learned working with her parents at the station served her well all her life. A grown-up Vade married Lake Tahoe steamboat captain, A. W. Clark, and gave birth to a daughter, Mehitable Jane Clark in 1879. When Vade was widowed, the lessons learned from Phillips Station proved their worth.                                                    

At the end of 1888, Vade paid George Hunsaker $5,500.00 in gold coins to become the new owner of 40 acres of land at Rubicon Springs. The hard working, and surely hard driving, Vade, built the 16 bedroom Rubicon Mineral Springs Hotel and Resort. The hotel was known for its elegant parlor. Vade served her discerning guests three meals a day, complimented by white linen tablecloths and polished silver.

Vade also established the Rubicon Flyer. Four horses pulled a six-passenger coach the nine miles from McKinney on Tahoe’s shore to the hotel. Lasting two and a half hours, the trip was described as hair raising. Adding injury to insult, the buttons on the coach’s supposedly comfortable seat cushions were labeled bun-busters.

About seven years after buying the Rubicon property, Vade sold it back to Hunsaker for $3,800 in gold coin. After that, she continued to own and to manage resorts around Lake Tahoe.

In 1897, Vade married again, to 20 year old James Bryson. Two years later, Vade’s second daughter, Alice Elaine Bryson, was born.

Vade inherited the run-down Phillips Station in 1909. She renovated the old station, adding cabins, a store and a campground. Thereafter, Vade and her family closed the station every fall, and made their winter home in Placerville. In spring the family transported loads of supplies to Phillips, reopening for the summer.

A setback occurred in October of 1911. Just before Phillips Station closed for the winter, a fire started in the kitchen. The family escaped unharmed, but a considerable amount of their currency was lost in the fire. Vade was held in such regard that the citizens of Placerville raised $300.00 for the family’s winter expenses.

By September of 1912, Vade had not only rebuilt, but had succeeded in getting a post office established at Phillips. The post office was named Vade in honor of its first postmaster.

Sierra Nevada Vade Phillips Clark Bryson died on May 21, 1921. She left two daughters, five grandchildren, a widower, and 320 acres of property.  Eight years later, the great depression closed Phillips Station for good.

Many years passed before the property was sold, and the Pow-Wow Restaurant and Gas Station opened. Their new sign along highway 50 jokingly read, “Eat at Pow Wow’s and Get Gas.” It’s likely Vade would have found that slogan more annoying than amusing.