Rick Darke, who for decades has been studying and visiting old railroads, told me about The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. “The High Line may be the most spectacular park made from an old railway,” he says, “but it is not the first. That honor belongs to the Bridge of Flowers.”
Built in 1908 as a trolley bridge, it extends 400 feet on concrete arches over the Deerfield River and connects the towns of Shelburne and Buckland. Less than twenty years after it opened, the railway fell victim to the rise of the automobile, and it went bankrupt in 1927; soon the bridge became overgrown with weeds, and many locals complained that it was “an eyesore.” But this structure, unlike so many other projects discussed here, could not be torn down, because in addition to trolleys the bridge also carried an essential water main across the river, from one town to the other.
One day, not long after the trains stopped running, someone — her name was Antoinette Burnham — had an idea. Mrs. Burnham, according an old friend who recounted the story to a local newspaper, determined to transform the eyesore into “a bridge of beauty.” It took the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club just two years to create “The Bridge of Flowers,” and it opened to visitors in 1929. That was five years before freight trains started rumbling down the High Line.
The Bridge has always been run by volunteers, and Pat Leuchtman of the Bridge of Flowers Committee graciously shared a few of her photographs of this beautiful place. For more information and photos, visit the website.
Rick Darke quote: from On the High Line: Exploring America’s Most Original Urban Park, by Annik La Farge (Thames & Hudson, April 2012), in an essay on “Other High Lines.” Visit Rick’s website.