Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Bridge of Flowers--my Mother's Day special

Walking back from the bank yesterday I took a slight detour across the Bridge of Flowers--ah ha,  the perfect post for Mother's Day. Every where I go--DC, Philly, Evanston-- people know the Bridge of Flowers--or as many call it the Flower Bridge--in Shelburne Falls. Definitely world famous.
Maybe you've seen a picture of it.

Now I'm not writing about it just because of flowers and Mother's Day. Really--that would be too easy. There is more to it than that.

But first, a primer on Shelburne Falls which I call a figment of the imagination. The downtown areas of the Town of Shelburne and the Town of Buckland separated by the Deerfield River, it has always had a special place in this part of western Mass.  The towns share a fire department and a water/sewer system but have separate police departments and town governments. Between the two towns there are at least 3 separate libraries--we do have our priorities straight.  Shelburne Falls is the commercial center for this part of western Mass. It was where the early high school was--and where the new regionalized high school is--well, sort of.

And what a great view there is. I took this picture looking upstream from the Bridge.

Back before the advent of cars, farmers would bring their families into town for the winter. Indeed when I moved here 29 years ago, there still were a couple of winter homes for farmers from the more remote areas.  The trains stopped here--just above where my studio is actually. And it is because of the trains that we have the Bridge of Flowers.You see, back in the early 1900's the existing bridge was not strong enough for the new rail and trolley lines so a new bridge was built across the river.  It's worth checking out these pictures of the construction--elegant arches in wood frames. The river still flowing over the rocks. Of course as frugal Yankees they put the water pipe between the 2 sides of the Village through the bottom of the Bridge.

Aren't these arches wonderful? This is the view from my studio--there are actually two bridges in this picture--the Iron Bridge for cars and the Bridge of Flowers. And yes, I do spend far too much time looking at it--wouldn't you?

The trolley ran down from Colrain--8 miles north. Indeed I've met a couple of older women who took the trolley into Shelburne Falls every Monday morning to attend high school--there were no high schools in Colrain. They stayed in boarding houses. On Friday they'd take the trolley back home.

However, in 1927 the advent of the automobile doomed the trolley. The bridge itself was weed covered and standing in disrepair but it couldn't be torn down because of those water pipes--remember. A local woman had a brilliant idea that the Women's club should plant the Bridge in flowers.

The initial project cost only $1000 although I'm sure that was a lot of money back then--this was the beginning of the Great Depression. In 1975 concern began to grow about the deterioration of the condition of the Bridge. Fund raising began and through a combination of grants and the contributions of more than 500 individuals, more than $500,000 was raised to totally rehabilitate the Bridge. During this time all the plantings were removed from the Bridge and cared for in private gardens. Pictures of this are posted here:

A couple of years ago the Bridge just celebrated its 80th birthday. The head gardener Carol DeLorenzo and her assistant Tish Murphy are constantly working on the Bridge--applying compost--digging and planting new and unusual flowers. I love walking across it and seeing what's new. Later in the spring volunteers are busy picking up the ornamental apples from the crab apple tree--yes, there are a couple of trees on the bridge. The soil is 9 feet deep at the arches.  Others are brushing gravel back onto the walk or dead-heading the flowers. There is always something new. Volunteers are welcome Wednesday evenings 5-7 and Friday mornings 8-10 a.m.

The Bridge is still managed by a special committee of the Shelburne Falls Area Woman's Club. They hire the gardeners and help raise the money to support it. Each year more than 15,000 people visit the Bridge strolling along the gravel paths and taking photos of the latest flowers blooming. I consider myself lucky--my studio is just down river from the Bridge--I can walk across it to go to the Bank, go to the Post Office, get groceries at Keystone Market--(Wednesday and Friday they have a curry special). And I love the fact  the primary force behind the Bridge is a group of wonderful, dynamic women--some of whom are descendants of the original creators of the Bridge. Others have just moved to the area. All interesting in their own way.

Isn't this what mothering is about? Taking something and nurturing it--bringing it to fruition and then meeting the problems as it matures. Aren't we all in some ways mothers to our communities. Do you have a similar concept in your town?