The informational brochure I picked up at the entrance to the fabled Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, when I first visited in 1999 bragged that the bridge is "the only one of its kind in the world." Since then, the attraction has inspired other blooming bridges including the Old Drake Hill Flower Bridge here in my home state: Connecticut. Still, in all of my travels, I can't say that I've quite seen anything exactly like this floral masterpiece that has been Shelburne Falls' centerpiece since the bridge was abandoned by the trolley line in 1928.
The bridge was originally constructed in 1908 to carry trolley tracks 400 feet across the Deerfield River. When trolley service ended in 1928, the concrete bridge was neglected and soon became an eyesore.
In 1929, the bridge was purchased by the Shelburne Falls Fire District, since it carried water mains across the river and, at the impetus of town residents Walter Burnham and his wife, Antoinette, a fundraising drive was launched to turn the bridge into a beautiful garden pathway: a Bridge of Flowers. A local businesswoman and Woman's Club member, Gertrude Newall, was named the bridge's first "gardener," a post she held for 30 years.
In 1983, the bridge underwent a massive half-million-dollar renovation to ensure its continued longevity. All plants were removed from the bridge during the renovations, and, in 1984, the bridge reopened to the public, newly designed by Shelburne Falls horticulturalist Carrolle Markle.
The design still features Wisteria vines that were kept growing during the reconstruction by members of the volunteer Bridge of Flowers Committee and returned to their original spots on the bridge.
Today, the Bridge of Flowers is maintained by a paid gardener and assistant and volunteers from the Committee and the Woman's Club.
More than 20,000 people stroll its blooming expanse 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.
If you spot an intriguing plant on your visit, check for a marker, as many of the rare and historical plantings are labeled.
This free attraction is open every day April through October. While there is no charge to meander across the Bridge of Flowers, donations deposited in boxes situated at each end of the bridge help to fund the maintenance of this enduring landmark. Much of the annual operating budget comes from donations and memorial gifts. Other fundraising efforts include a plant sale held each year in the spring and a membership organization, Friends of the Bridge, which offers perks to supporters.
If you're going... The Bridge of Flowers is located off the Mohawk Trail (Massachusetts Route 2) in the center of the village of Shelburne Falls (see directions). Compare rates and reviews for Shelburne Falls area hotels and inns with TripAdvisor.
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