Bridge of Flowers News
Bridge of Flowers Repairs: Updates
12/12/2023: Read this fun article about part of the initial bridge-repair assessment, "The Difference Between Gardeners and Bridge Engineers," by Brian Brenner, a Professor of the Practice at Tufts University and a Principal Engineer at Tighe & Bond, published through the American Society of Civil Engineers.
WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE...?
On October 31, 2023, the gates to the Bridge of Flowers closed and will not re-open to the public until the extensive repairs to its structure have been completed, sometime in 2025. Most of the perennials have already been dug up to be cared for in local gardens, including those of our head gardener and assistant gardener, and will return to the bridge when it re-opens. Roots of smaller trees and bushes have been pruned and readied to be moved to the farm site of the assistant gardener. The larger trees that cannot be returned to the bridge will be donated, some to the new pocket park on Deerfield Avenue. Unfortunately, the beloved wisteria cannot be transplanted, but its fabled curled branches will be preserved for some repurposed artistic use. As the restoration gets underway in spring 2024, updates and photos of the reconstruction will be posted periodically here.
Meanwhile, the Bridge of Flowers Committee is working with local community organizers led by Cate Chadwick on an initiative to create a “Village of Flowers” to draw tourists here while the Bridge is closed. For information about how to get involved in this and other ideas under discussion, contact VillageOfFlowersShelburneFalls@gmail.com.
Bridge of Flowers to Close in Late October, 2023
for Extensive Repairs
The project will secure public water infrastructure, preserve the structural life of the span, and improve the experience of walking the garden bridge
The Bridge of Flowers will close as usual in late October, but this time it will not reopen until major and much-needed repairs have been made, thanks to a $2.28 million state infrastructure grant.
The Shelburne Falls Fire District (SFFD), the independent governmental entity that owns the bridge and provides fire, ambulance, and public water service for the village, has made the decision to proceed with the project with full support of the Bridge of Flowers Committee, which oversees the bridge garden, and help from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, after an engineering study revealed issues needing attention.
“The Shelburne Falls Fire District appreciates the investment the Commonwealth is making to extend the life of the Bridge of Flowers and to strengthen the village public water system,” said SFFD Commission Chair Ron Dobosz. “This project is essential to the sustainability of our Village’s public water infrastructure.”
The iconic arched bridge across the Deerfield River, beloved by the community, is also a major economic driver for village tourism, drawing thousands of visitors from across the world each season. However, it also serves a crucial infrastructure need: carrying the only water main that provides potable water to Buckland residents.
In 2020, Tighe & Bond, Inc. engineers were hired to complete a structural assessment of the bridge.
The assessment was made to review cracking on the north side wall and took into consideration the extreme flooding during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and the fact that major improvements were last made 40 years ago, in 1983.
The study recommended addressing cracks and stabilizing the spandrel wall on the northeast side of the bridge. It was also noted that some tie-rods that support walls on the northeast area of the bridge are failing or may have already failed.
While the bridge is not in imminent danger, it has been deemed advisable to address these problems now to preserve the structural integrity of this important water infrastructure and to do so before the already enormous project becomes even more costly.
The nature of this project requires the bridge to be closed. The start date and duration of the project as well as planting removal and return are being finalized now to determine the most cost-effective way to make needed repairs within the budget and in the most expedient manner.
Decision-makers have looked at every possible timeframe to execute such a major project, fully realizing the impact the bridge has on the local economy to bring visitors to the village as well as the pleasure it affords residents — in addition to carrying the vital water main line.
Their deliberations have resulted in the decision that the most cost-effective way to complete needed repairs is to close the bridge for an extended period, likely to include the full 2024 growing season.
Winter construction is highly weather-dependent and would require tenting and heating to be sure concrete and other applied material cure properly. Overall, winter construction is longer, more expensive, and riskier. Moreover, the heavy equipment required for the job cannot easily be moved in and out seasonally, were the work to be staggered.
In 2022, after Tighe & Bond updated its 2020 work estimate, the District applied for and was awarded a $2.28 million grant from the Commonwealth’s MassWorks infrastructure program to address structural repairs and install a new water main.
The district has retained Tighe & Bond to complete project design and engineering, which is underway, and a more specific schedule will likely be made public in late-summer/early fall. A public information session will be scheduled for August/September.
“While we regret having to close our beautiful garden bridge for a season, we realize the importance of the structural work to ensure the viability of the Bridge of Flowers for another 94 years,” said Bridge of Flowers Committee Chair Annette Szpila. “We also know what a lot of work by many the successful completion of this work will entail and are grateful to our gardeners and volunteers who are ready to do what needs to be done.”
The 115-year-old former trolley bridge once carried goods between the Buckland rail yard and Colrain — apples, hides, lumber, and more from Colrain, and raw cotton to be finished to Colrain. It was closed in 1927 with the advent of motorized vehicles that transformed the transport issue.
In 1929, an initiative to transform the bridge itself into a public garden was undertaken by the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club, the umbrella organization of the Bridge of Flowers Committee.
Since then, the bridge has been maintained by dedicated Committee volunteers of the Blossom Brigade who assist the equally dedicated paid head gardener and assistant gardener.
Among the myriad tasks to be accomplished are removing all plantings and soil from the bridge. Trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs will need temporary or permanent homes. A few trees deemed by engineers to be too large to be returned to the garden will likely be donated to the new pocket park at Bridge Street and Deerfield Avenue. Other plants will be housed on nearby farms and in local gardens.
In addition to moving all live material, other familiar objects must be removed and replaced. Lamp posts, kiosks, fencing, lighting, memorials, most benches, and the pathway and flag pole will be removed.
“We are in process of finding temporary homes for many of the plantings as we look to move everything on the bridge to safe and appropriate locations for the duration of the project,” Szpila said. “The good news is that this will be an opportunity to upgrade fencing, lighting, and the pathway — projects we have long been considering.”
Every effort is being made to choose replacement elements with the historical nature of the bridge in mind. For example, rubber edging now on the path may be replaced by old trolley tracking.
Some of the heavy work to remove soil and large plantings will be done by professional landscapers, but volunteers will remove bulbs and perennials, as was done in 1983 when the bridge was last repaired.
Minimizing impact and looking ahead
Those who labor on the bridge are taking the long view of the project while also taking care of short-term needs.
“Ever since we understood that the bridge repair project would include removing everything from the bridge, we've been making lists and planning,” said Head Gardener Carol DeLorenzo. “We have a different strategy with regard to managing plants this season. For example, after blooming, we are digging up many of the bulbs and spring ephemerals, such as daffodils, allium, trillium, dodecatheon and hepatica, before the plants go dormant and we lose track of where they are. Some of the shrubs will be pruned back harder than usual and partially root-pruned as well in preparation for the fall relocation.
“While we won't save every single posy, we have many specimens and hope to send them home to be planted and looked after by our volunteers — much like what happened when the bridge was repaired in 1983. We're also reviewing sites where we can store a majority of our bridge perennials, shrubs, and trees. It's definitely a huge job to remove a garden across a river and then rebuild it, but it's a challenge we're up to. Despite the hard work, we think it will be fun and invigorating as well.”
“While it's a daunting task, we are confident that we will successfully relocate all that we need to move,” said Szpila. “In addition to the needed structural repairs, when we reopen the bridge, you'll see new railings, pathways, and lighting, and a few more wonderful surprises, so we're focused on the end result: a safer, more structurally sound, more beautiful bridge.”
Understanding that the village economy was greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, when the bridge was closed, the Committee, as well as local arts organizations and businesses, are planning numerous events and activities to help keep local residents and visitors engaged.
The Bridge of Flowers Committee is planning a first-ever art show and sale Oct. 14-15 at the Shelburne-Buckland Community Center.
In the spring, the Committee hopes to offer tours of local “hidden gardens.”
“We plan to host garden tours and more next year while the bridge work is being accomplished to continue to celebrate our local gardens,” Spzila said. “We are most grateful for your support and understanding as we take needed steps to move our iconic bridge to a bright future.”
“We're looking forward to the end prize and making a kind of horticultural magic that will bring the entire bridge a fresh bloom in 2025,” DeLorenzo added. “But until we close in October, there's plenty to enjoy and we hope you'll take time to stop and smell the flowers.”
A public information session will be held in August or September to share more details about the project and answer questions. The final project schedule is anticipated to be released in late summer/early fall 2023.
Project information and periodic updates will be posted online at shelburnefallsfiredistrict.org and bridgeofflowersmass.org. Updates will also be shared with the village business community and available for Buckland and Shelburne town e-newsletters.
Bridge of Flowers Art Show and Sale
The art sale took place October 14-15, 2023 at the Shelburne-Buckland Community Center in Shelburne Falls, MA . Proceeds from the sale will benefit the Bridge of Flowers repair fund.
The Bridge of Flowers thanks the many artists and volunteers who gave freely of their talents and time to make the art show and sale such a success.
Greenfield Recorder Celebrates
Bridge of Flowers 2023 Season
On March 30, 2023, the Greenfield Recorder posted an article titled, "Bridge of Flowers set to open April 1 in Shelburne Falls" (click link to read). Several Bridge committee members were interviewed to discuss the annual Plant Sale scheduled for Saturday, May 13, 2023, from 9 a.m. to noon at the corner of Main and Water streets in Shelburne Falls, MA, and other spring-season activities on the Bridge.
Bridge of Flowers Studies: Tufts University students Connect All Things Bridge to the Popular Span
For more information about this project, please read "A Garden Bridge Offers Aspiring Engineers an Opportunity to Grow," published in Tufts Now.
The Bridge of Flowers has long been a source of inspiration for people in all walks of life -- painters and photographers, poets and gardeners, as well as those who come simply to bask in the beauty of the flowers in every season. For engineer and college instructor Brian Brenner, the bridge also inspired a course he taught last year at Tufts University: CEE-129, Bridge Design and Rehabilitation. The work his students produced in that course is now featured on the Bridge website, where it’s offering a wide array of resources for bridge enthusiasts and historians as well as curricular aids for teachers, students, and parents.
Brenner, a principal engineer at Tighe & Bond and a Professor of the Practice at Tufts University, confesses to being partial to the Bridge of Flowers. “My professional life has always focused on bridges,” he says, “but the Bridge of Flowers, for me, has become a favorite.” When he was preparing to teach a course at Tufts last fall about bridge design and rehabilitation, he decided to offer his students the opportunity to use the Bridge of Flowers as a case study for some of their project assignments. “The Bridge has such a rich history,” he says, “And now, after almost a century, it is beginning to show signs of needing rehabilitation, so it was an ideal subject on many levels -- about bridge construction, then and now; about types of bridges and uses; about the role of bridges in the community; and about what bridges can teach us.”
His students, Brenner says, responded enthusiastically, and, working in small groups, produced four separate projects, each focused on a different aspect of bridges, but all related in some way to the Bridge of Flowers. As the students researched and designed their projects, they also consulted with members of the Bridge of Flowers volunteer committee, offering to make the projects available as a way to enrich the Bridge’s own website with a wealth of information that could serve a wide variety of users. All the projects are listed under “About Us” on the homepage and and then linked from “Educational Resources.”
Bridge of Flowers is a Greenfield Recorder 2021 Franklin Favorites Winner!
Bridge of Flowers has won "Favorite Tourist Attraction" in the Greenfield Recorder's 2021 Franklin Favorites competition. The 2021 Franklin Favorites was showcased in a Special Section in the Greenfield Recorder on October 28, 2021, with the bridge featured on page 7.
Bridge of Flowers Gardener Becomes U.S. Citizen
Assistant Gardener, Elliston Bingham, originally from Jamaica, became a U.S. citizen in 2020 and we are very proud of him. Read about his accomplishment in the Greenfield Recorder.
Holiday Lights, 2020
The Bridge of Flowers will spring to life in the dark winter season, beginning on FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 27 when new lights and decorations and a “nature tree” will be officially “lit,” thanks to a grant to the Greater Shelburne Falls Area Business Association (GSFABA) from the MassDevelopment Commonwealth Places Program. For more information, click here.
90th Anniversary of the Bridge of Flowers
In 2019, the Bridge of Flowers marked its 90th anniversary on Saturday, October 5, with a community-wide celebration that opened with a festive parade of children across the Bridge, led by the Shelburne Falls Military Band. The old-fashioned birthday party featured a display of art work of the Bridge done by local artists as well as tributes from state legislators and community leaders. The Bridge is widely regarded as the oldest example of a re-purposed structure in the country and continues to rely almost entirely on volunteer support.
A Franklin Favorite
The Bridge of Flowers was recognized as Franklin Favorite tourist attraction three years in a row (2018, 2019, and 2020) in a contest sponsored by the Greenfield Recorder.
Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls |
Connecting Point - WGBY | Sept. 10, 2018
– New England Today visits
the Bridge of Flowers
The garden shed, with its beautiful stained-glass window, was built several years ago with funds donated by generous visitors and Friends of the Bridge. It houses the garden tools used by the Head Gardener and Assistant Gardener as well as the volunteers who call themselves the Blossom Brigade.