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Visiting the Village of Shelburne Falls

Flag in Shelburne FallsOn one of my recent jaunts up to Vermont this summer I decided that it was high time I stopped driving past the sign on Interstate 91 that pointed out that the Bridge of Flowers was accessed off of Exit 26 and actually go there. The Bridge of Flowers is located in the eastern foothills of the Berkshires in the small Massachusetts village of Shelburne Falls. To get there off of Interstate 91, travelers turn on to scenic Route 2 which is also known as the Mohawk Trail.

I didn’t really know too much about the Mohegan Trail other than that my parents had traversed some of it on their honeymoon back in 1956 (there was a souvenir plate that used to hang in the dining room when I was a kid that showed different tourist stops along the route) and that Benedict Arnold, before he became that most infamous of American traitors, used it after recruiting troops in Deerfield, Massachusetts prior to marching off to the British-held Fort Ticonderoga in New York.

A little research, though, has me thinking that I’m definitely going need to take a drive along the historic route sometime soon! Officially opening on October 22nd, 1814, the 63-mile Mohawk Trail is one of the oldest designated tourist and scenic routes in the nation and the first scenic road in New England – the perfect spot for a Distracted Wanderer like me! “The Trail” started out as a footpath by the Native American people of the Northeast, the Pocumtucks of Massachusetts and the Mohawks of New York, and has had an interesting history over the years – one that I shall most definitely have to check out but for now; let’s just go to Shelburne Falls, shall we?

Salmon Falls Sign

Shelburne Falls is a small village (population approximately 2,000 give or take) located between the towns of Shelburne and Buckland with Shelburne being on the eastern side of the Deerfield River and Buckland on the west. The village is built around Salmon Falls which was named for the salmon who, many years ago, would swim up the Connecticut River every spring towards the Deerfield River before leaping up the falls en route to their ancient spawning grounds. Salmon Falls was one of the most popular fishing sites for Native Americans in the area and was the site of a treaty between the Mohawks and Penobscotts from 1708 to 1758 that was recognized by the Colonial Court in 1744.

Ancient Glacier Pot Holes Sign

In search of the Bridge of Flowers, I ended up with a two-for-one deal in that unbeknownst to me, Shelburne Falls is also the home of the “Glacial Potholes” which are located at the base of Salmon Falls. The potholes began to form about 14,000 years ago after the last glaciers in the area melted and flooded the Connecticut River Valley forming a huge lake which was known as Lake Hitchcock.

Dam on the Greenfield River at Salmon Falls

As the lake drained, the Deerfield River carried a large amount of sand, mud, and stones that began to erode the metamorphic rock over which the river flowed. The rocks would get stuck in cracks in the riverbed and the force of the fast-flowing water would then cause them to spin and vibrate in place essentially causing them to bore potholes in the river bottom.

Glacial potholes at Salmon Falls

One of the largest known concentrations of potholes in the country as well as home of the largest pothole on record, Salmon Falls has over 50 potholes ranging in size from 6 inches to 39 feet in diameter. Now that’s a big pothole! The area used to be used as a local swimming area and people were allowed to explore the potholes but that’s no longer the case as the potholes can only be viewed from a platform above them which is located across from the dam that was built during the Industrial Revolution. That’s a shame as I’m sure exploring the potholes close up had to be pretty cool but I’m sure the town isn’t interested in having to deal with lawsuits from people who hurt themselves and then think they need to sue someone.

Glacial potholes at Salmon Falls

After looking at the potholes for awhile and wondering where on earth the 39-footer was hiding, I walked up Deerfield Avenue (the dead end where the overlook for Salmon Falls is located) past a few of the local artisans’ shops towards the Iron Bridge which crosses the Deerfield River to Buckland.

The Iron Bridge in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts

I can’t tell you much about the bridge other than that they had a Bridge Committee in 1890 and since 2000 they have held an annual “Iron Bridge Dinner” which is presented by the Shelburne Falls Area Business Association in conjunction with local restaurants and catering services. Modeled after a similar outdoor community event in France, a very long table that accommodates 400 diners is set up with linens and china down the middle of the Iron Bridge and come rain or shine, everyone sits down and has a wonderful meal and a really good time. Apparently it’s a very popular event and sells out every year with proceeds from the event going to community organizations like the Mohawk Athletic Association who have served the dinner for the past two years.

Shelburne Falls, The Iron Bridge

I took a nice leisurely stroll across the Iron Bridge over the very peaceful Deerfield River (though it was definitely not peaceful following Hurricane Irene) and made my way over to the famous only-one-of-its-kind in the world Bridge of Flowers - the 400-foot 5-arch span that was originally constructed in 1908 to carry electric trolleys that hauled freight and passengers between Shelburne Falls and the neighboring town of Colrain with stops along the way at manufacturing companies and mills to drop off workers, milk, mail, and whatever else needed a ride. As a major source of transportation, the trolley was an integral part of life in Shelburne Falls and the surrounding countryside.

Shelburne Falls' Bridge of Flowers

Like all good things, though, the days of the trolleys came to an end as automobile usage increased and the freight that the trolleys delivered was now hauled by trucks instead. In 1927 the trolley company went bankrupt and in 1928 the bridge that was built in a classic Italian style for the Shelburne Falls and Colrain Street Railroad was abandoned.

The middle of the Bridge of Flowers
Bridge of Flowers Sign

As time passed the abandoned bridge that had once seen sixteen trolleys cross over it each day as they made the 14-mile round trip from Shelburne Falls to Colrain, became more and more neglected and soon became an eyesore. Then in 1929 Antoinette Burnham, after seeing it covered in weeds, came up with the brilliant idea to transform the abandoned trolley bridge into a garden. As the bridge and its aqueduct had been purchased by the Shelburne Falls Fire District due to the fact that it carried a water main between Shelburne and Buckman, it couldn’t be destroyed and considering that it wasn’t needed as a pedestrian bridge, the community agreed with her idea – especially after Antoinette and her husband Walter held a fundraising drive to pay for the costs of turning the bridge into a beautiful garden pathway.
Walking on the Bridge of Flowers

The Shelburne Woman’s Club sponsored the project and soon eighty loads of loam and several loads of fertilizer were brought to the bridge to begin the conversion that would put Shelburne Falls on the map. Gertude Newall, a local businesswoman and Woman's Club member, was named the bridge's first "gardener" - a post she held for 30 years.

Towns of Buckland and Shelburne World War I and II Memorial on the Bridge of Flowers

Following a 1981 study to check on the deterioration of the bridge’s structure, the bridge underwent a massive half-million-dollar renovation to ensure its continued longevity. Various organizations went to work raising the needed $580,000 to repair the bridge and following donations by over 500 individuals, businesses, and corporations the project officially began on May 2nd, 1983.

Bridge of Flowers
During the restoration, all of the bridge’s plants, trees, shrubs, and Wisteria vines were removed and cared for in private gardens by members of the volunteer Bridge of Flowers Committee while the 8-inch water main that carries half a million gallons of water each day was replaced and the bridge’s integrity was assured. With a new design by Carrolle Markle, a Shelburne Falls horticulturist, that returned the removed Wisteria vines to their original spots, the bridge was replanted and reopened to the public in 1984.
Strolling on the Bridge of Flowers

With over 500 varieties of flowers, vines, and shrubs, the Bridge of Flowers is today maintained by a paid gardener and assistant along with volunteers from the Committee and the Woman's Club. Upwards of 30,000 people stroll its expanse of beautiful blooms each year and care is taken to ensure that “from the time the tulips pop up in April until the mums mark the end of New England's fall flowering season that something spectacular is always in bloom.”

Korea and Vietnam War Memorial - Shelburne Falls

It’s absolutely free to walk across the Bridge of Flowers and admire all of the beautiful plants and flowers but with 80% of its annual operating budget (in the neighborhood of $20,000) coming from donations, bequests, and memorial gifts, you can always drop a buck or two in one of the boxes located at either end of the bridge if you’re so inclined. For now, you can look at a few of the flowers that I saw on that beautiful day in July on my walk on the Bridge of Flowers – it’s not quite as nice as being there in person but until you can get there yourselves, it’ll have to do!

Collage from the Bridge of Flowers
Flower collage from Bridge of Flowers
Blooms from the Bridge of Flowers

It should also be noted that in addition to the Glacial Potholes and the Bridge of Flowers, visitors to the village of Shelburne Falls can also enjoy the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum where you can take a ride on Shelburne Falls & Colrain Street Railway trolley car No. 10 which was built by Wason Manufacturing Co. in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1896 and was one of the original trolley cars that crossed the Deerfield River on the now Bridge of Flowers. The museum is most definitely a place that my grandfather would have loved and just because I didn't get to it this trip doesn't mean that I might not get to it later; I may just have to wander back up that way again sometime perhaps when I spend more time exploring the Mohawk Trail.


Comments

  1. That bridge is incredible, Linda! Just beautiful and how wonderful that lady had the idea back in the 20s to turn the bridge into a fantastic floral display! Thanks for providing a look at this area!

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  2. What a wonderful bridge! That looks like a great place to visit. :)

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  3. What a beautiful re-purpose for that unused bridge! Incredible foresight and a feast to the eyes...

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  4. Gorgeous! It's a shame they have to remind people not to destroy the beauty!

    btw, Potholes down south are totally different! They swallow up homes and entire neighborhoods. For real.

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  5. Look at the beautiful coneflowers and lilies! Love em!

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  6. Wow, great post! I've been to the Bridge of Flowers... I wrote about it here:http://www.waywardwanderers.com/memorial-day-weekend-riding-through-new-england/ But I had no idea about the potholes. Can't wait to go back and see the things you found here! Thanks for sharing and great blog!

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