In 1908 a new trolley bridge started bringing milk, cotton products and passengers from Colrain to Shelburne Falls. In 1929 the trolley was no longer needed and the bridge became the Bridge of Flowers. The transformation began when Antoinette Burnham looked at the neglected bridge and thought that surely a bridge that could grow so many weeds, could grow flowers instead. That was the beginning of the conversion from industry to garden.
Julius Blassberg bought the bridge and then gave the newly formed Shelburne Falls Women’s Club a five year lease. Ultimately the Bridge was sold to the Shelburne Falls Fire District because of the water main that is located below what had been the trolley tracks. The Women’s Club set up a committee, and the community joined in the amazing transformation. Businesses and individuals donated money, skills and labor. It takes a village to create a treasure!
Thirty-six years ago the Bridge needed a major restoration. The community created Bridge of Flowers Preservation, Inc. Do you know what happens when there is such an undertaking? Money needs to be raised, and every single plant on the Bridge needs to be removed.
The women and men of the town raised that money, then dug up all the plants and tended them for a year in their gardens until they could be replanted. This is a special kind of devotion. In the spring of 1984 they were replanted along with new plants. There are new plants every year, of course, because you cannot have never-ending bloom without annuals.
There have been disasters to endure. Remember Hurricane Irene that did so much damage throughout our area in August of 2011? Shelburne Falls had flooding, and I know of one building that was pulled off its moorings and floated down the street. The raging Deerfield River slammed into the Bridge of Flowers and splashed over the flower beds for hours. (This video does not show the splashing, but you get the idea https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-YuQWLGA870) When the storm quieted and the sun came out the Blossom Brigade and many friends were on hand with shovels to clear as much silt off the plants and pathway as possible. New plants were added to fill empty spots. The Bridge of Flowers was not to be vanquished!
As the Bridge of Flowers committee looks back on 90 years of care they can take satisfaction in the growing beauty of the Bridge and the growing number of tourists who come to celebrate its glory. It is hard to count the number of visitors to the Bridge but a look through the Visitor’s Pages at both ends of the Bridge suggest that in recent years more than 40,000 people visit every year. Some visitors are from Massachusetts, others come on tour buses from far away places. In addition to admiring the Bridge they might enjoy a meal at Hearty Eats or the West End Pub. They might buy some sweets at Mo’s delicious Fudge Factor, or a painting or pair of earrings at the Shelburne Arts Cooperative. There are many ways to buy a memento of a day at the Bridge of Flowers.
Needless to say, it takes a lot of work to care for a garden, especially a garden that needs to be at its best from April 1 to October 30. Carol DeLorenzo is the current Head Gardener. She has designed and organized the plantings for the past 20 years, making sure that the pathway is always lined, one might say crowded, with blooming plants. Each year it is a little different. She is assisted by Elliston Bingham. Both are assisted by the Blossom Brigade, the women who volunteer at the Bridge twice a week, on Wednesday evenings, and Friday mornings.
At this time of the year the Blossom Bridge is especially busy preparing for the Annual Plant sale. It is the nature of healthy plants to grow bigger and bigger. Many plants on the Bridge need to be divided every year, just as we gardeners need to divide our flowers every year or two.
DeLorenzo digs and organizes all the plants to be divided. The volunteers then pott them up. Gardeners like me can dig up our own large clumps and bring them to the Bridge for the volunteers skillfully pot them up in good soil. The potted plants are then taken to Lynda Leitner’s house where she waters and cares for them until the afternoon before the sale. That afternoon many volunteers and vehicles bring the potted plants to the Baptist Lot to be organized and arranged. It is a sight to see!
This year the plant sale is scheduled for Saturday, May 18 and will begin promptly at 9 a.m. Buyers may look and make their own decisions about what they want most, but no touching until the bell rings and the sale begins!
The plant sale is a festive event. In addition to all the beautiful plants to buy, coffee and sweets will help keep your energy up. The Buckland Board of Health will have information about ticks, and the Master Gardeners will offer soil tests. Garden related art, gardening aprons, and plant and herb starts will also be available.
There will be another big event this year. In September the Bridge of Flowers will celebrate its 90th anniversary. Ninety years of creating beauty, building community, and spreading joy to visitors from near and far is something to celebrate!
Do you need to clean or sharpen your garden tools? You are invited to a workshop to benefit the Erving Public Library Building Fund on Saturday, May 18 at Dry Brook Garden, 105 Old State Road, Erving. The cost is $20. Bring up to five garden hand tools (no power tools). Coffee, refreshments and a bucket of gardening goodies included.
Registration required by May 15. Register by calling the library at 413-423-3348. Space is limited.
Between the Rows May 4, 2019
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What a wonderful tradition! I had never heard of it before! The history of it is fascinating, too.
The Bridge of Flowers owes a lot to the women of the community. Lots of tourists come by. One day I couldn’t understand a single tourist as they chatted – visitors from South Asia!