One of the great success stories of the last few years has been the High Line, the re-vitilization of an old train line running through the west side of Manhattan. Once an abandoned rusting track bed covered with weeds, the High Line offers lessons of vision and persistence. It is a remarkable story that has brought it and the surrounding areas back to vibrancy – a new life for a new generation.
As inspiring as the story is in New York (and elsewhere based on similar projects that followed), it is nothing new. Long before the High Line there was the Bridge of Flowers.
The Bridge of Flowers is in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, connecting the towns of Shelburne and Buckland. Like so much of Massachusetts and New England the area is quaint and rich in history. As someone not from the area, it is all wonderful to take in. But sometimes I begin to lose track as one place in Massachusetts with its steeples, Victorian homes and inns can start to look like others equally as quaint towns in New Hampshire, Vermont or Connecticut. The Bridge of Flowers makes Shelburne -Buckland hard to forget.
The Bridge of Flowers is a seasonal footbridge. Once a trolley bridge, it has a garden of flowers covering it. It is only open between April and October.
Over 500 varieties if annuals and perennials are planted and tended by local volunteers who work with a head gardener and an assistant to assure continuous blooming throughout the year.
Built for $20,000 in 1908 by the Shelburne Falls and Colrain Street Railway so that freight could be picked up and dropped off directly with the railroad to Colrain . This concrete bridge was necessary because the nearby Iron Bridge had a twenty-ton weight limit. The Iron Bridge – a truss bridge built in 1890 – is still open to vehicles. The two bridges’ ends in Buckland are almost side by side.
As automobile usage began to increase, freight began to be transported more by trucks, and the street railway (trolley) company went bankrupt in 1927. (The history of the railway is preserved in the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum).
In 1929, with the bridge covered in weeds, local housewife Antoinette Burnham came up with the idea of transforming the bridge into a garden. Since it was not needed as a footbridge and could not be demolished because it carried a water main between the two towns, the community agreed to her idea. The Shelburne Woman’s Club sponsored the project in 1928. In 1929, eighty loads of loam and several loads of fertilizer were brought to the bridge. Several women’s clubs around town raised $1,000 in 1929.
In 1975, a photographic study was conducted of Shelburne Falls. One of the concerns of the town was the deterioration of the bridge structure. In 1981, funds were raised by those who owned the bridge, and a study was commissioned. The study determined that $580,000 in repairs should be made to the bridge. Various organizations raised money and repairs began on May 2, 1983. During the restoration, every plant that was removed was cared for in private. The restoration replaced the 8-inch water line, which carries up to half a million gallons of water a day. The bridge also contains two and a half feet of soil at the top of the arches and nine feet deep at the piers.
We recently visited Shelburne Falls and the Bridge of Flowers. It was a late afternoon/early evening on a Sunday. We raced up I-91 and Route 2, fearing that there would not be enough time to see the bridge during daylight hours and still make it on time for a dinner reservation.
Any anxiety was unfounded. We made it to the bridge at a perfect hour, just in time to see the transition from day to dusk to night – from sun to moon – all the while the flowers, though stationery and in place were also so alive and changing as the light around them did too. We also felt blessed by the serene mirror reflections of bridges and town buildings on either bank in the still waters.
Dinner at the Blue Rock Tavern just up the hill from the bridge did not disappoint either. A fabulous Cauliflower Steak satisfied, as did the Veggie Bean Burger.
After dinner there was again a chance to cross the bridge with a night view – bathed by moonlight.
It is rare that one appreciates the memories when they are actually being made. More often it is only in hindsight that the appreciation and recognition are truly realized.
But this Sunday was a moment when you immediately knew that grand memories were being built. It was one of those evenings when one wishes they could stop time to allow let the moment to continue. The beautiful bridge of flowers. The cute town. The food . The company. It was all good.
But time did not stop, and we were left to making mental and photographic images to help us to retain the moment and to help us remember in future years. All too quickly it was over – time to head back towards the interstate.
To this traveler, a visit the High Line will never be quite the same. I left my heart at the Bridge of Flowers.
By the way, though the tracks have been gone for a long time, the trolley that once crossed what is now the Bridge of Flowers is still in town at the nearby Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum. In fact, you can take a 15 minute ride on the 1896 vintage trolley that once crossed the river.Share