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Boston planning to make  its own Bridge of Flowers

A rendering of a "Bridge of Flowers" conversion planned for Old Northern Avenue Bridge in Boston. Submitted by Boston Harbor Association.

A rendering of a "Bridge of Flowers" conversion planned for Old Northern Avenue Bridge in Boston. Submitted by Boston Harbor Association.

SHELBURNE FALLS — A headline in the Boston Globe read “Bridge of Flowers idea takes root in Boston,” and compared makeover plans for the industrial Old Northern Avenue Bridge, in downtown Boston, to that of Shelburne Falls’s famous Bridge of Flowers.

Another headline in the Boston Business Journal was: “The Hub will be getting its own Bridge of Flowers thanks to a $50,000 grant to the Boston Harbor Association from the Garden Club of America.”

“Should we have the (Bridge of Flowers) be a registered trademark?” wondered Michael McCusker, owner of the Bridge of Flowers Business Center and founder of the Bridge of Flowers Road Race.

“It’s too late,” said Marion Taylor, a longtime steward of the Shelburne Falls flower bridge and current treasurer of the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club, which manages the bridge. “We should have done that in 1929 — because everybody has taken the name Bridge of Flowers.”

But Google “Bridge of Flowers,” and you mostly get the one in Shelburne Falls.

Taylor says the Women’s Club gets five or six inquiries each year from community groups that want to create their own flower gardens on an old, unused bridge. But few of those candidate bridges have all the characteristics that make the Shelburne Falls bridge work — such as its ability to hold soil, lack of vehicle traffic, plenty of sun, and, most of all, a central location.

“We have a very unique structure,” Taylor said. “If they want to try and build a bridge of flowers, it’s good luck to them. I think we have something quite unique. We have many people who would like to copy it, but they have come up with something different.”

The Boston Globe article noted that, 100 years before New York City converted an abandoned railroad spur into an aerial park, called the High Line, Shelburne Falls had converted the bridge over the Deerfield “in a true pioneering act of readapting the refuse of the industrial age.”

Like the Shelburne Falls trolley bridge, the Old Northern Bridge near Boston’s Fort Point was built in 1908. But there, the comparisons end.

Because the Iron Bridge had a 20-ton weight limit, the trolley bridge was built by the Shelburne Falls & Colrain Street Railway to help deliver heavy freight from the Shelburne Falls railyard to the mills on the 7.5-mile stretch of Route 112 north to Colrain, according to the Bridge of Flowers website. The 400-foot-long concrete bridge transported milk, apples, cotton and passengers until 1927, when the railway company went bankrupt and when cars and trucks were taking the place of trains.

According to Shelburne’s town history, the unused bridge was regarded as an “eyesore” — too costly to destroy and not needed as a footbridge. Since it also carried a water main from Shelburne to Buckland, the bridge was purchased by the Shelburne Falls Fire District for $1,250.

Antoinette Burnham had the idea to transform the bridge and the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club raised $1,000 for the beautification project. In April, 1929, they got 80 loads of loam and several loads of fertilizer on the bridge, all with donated labor. Also, fencing along the sides of the bridge was put up by donated labor.

Michele Hanss, chairwoman of the Boston branch of the Garden Committee of America, said the $50,000 grant her group contributed is for a “horticultural display” along the historic, metal truss “swing” bridge.

“We didn’t model it after your bridge,” she said. “Let’s say, it’s (going to be) a sister to it.”

“It’s a pretty windswept area,” Hanss continued. “We’re doing more grasses, more evergreens. Our bridge will be more green, but definitely with some color. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be fast-tracked, because the mayor really wanted this.”

Hanss said the press has called it a “bridge of flowers” — not those who have designed it. She said she has been surprised by the amount of publicity the project has received.

“We’re characterizing the Old Northern Avenue Bridge as “an iron relic of Boston’s old industrial past,” said landscape architect David Warner of Boston. “Everybody has to have realistic expectations.” He said the bridge will have portable planters along the pedestrian way with “lush seaside garden plantings.”

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
dbronc@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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