Recently Dad and I had the chance to spend a few days in his hometown of Shelburne Falls, Mass. It’s a small town, about the size of Brookville, so while some things change as far as retailers that are there or restaurants, the town itself doesn’t change very much.
Dad has been taking our family there since I was just a baby. And while we don’t get there as often as we used to, it’s still nice to get back to “The Falls” to see what has changed and what has remained the same.
I’m sure the town is much busier than it used to be. Trying to park on Main Street is almost impossible unless one gets downtown early. Instead we park in the public parking area behind the grocery store, which also fills up fast but most visitors are not aware of it. A short walk down the alley and you’re on Main Street. The grocery store has new owners but the store is still laid out the same. We checked but it no longer carries Golden Ginger ale or Moxie, as it did decades before. We strolled up one side of Main Street and down the other, with Dad noting where the bank where Uncle Jess worked was, where the movie theater was and still is as well as some of the new businesses in town.
One such business had gone into the glass blowing shop. Mom, Dad and I would watch the workers blow all types of glassware and ornaments and then stop in the adjoining shop to purchase a few mementoes. Usually we bought colorful balls of glass that now hang in my dining room windows. Today instead of handmade glass items being made there, homemade breads, cookies and more are made in the building. It is a bakery and restaurant called Baked. We stopped there for breakfast after finding it our first morning there. I had the cinnamon french toast two mornings in a row because it was so yummy. Thick – and I do mean thick – slices of homemade cinnamon bread coated in a fresh egg mixture and cooked until golden. Two slices filled the plate and a small container with real maple syrup made locally set along side. On the first morning Dad had homemade corned beef hash made with real potatoes and real slices of corned beef. He enjoyed it, as he’s never had hash made like this. I could tell if we lived in the town we’d have to limit our time at Baked or risk gaining a lot of weight because the food was so good.
Two of the important things that we go to see had not changed much, if at all.
The first was the glacier potholes at Salmon Falls. The area is the largest selection of glacial potholes in the country, according to the Mohawk Trail Region website. The potholes predate the Indians “by thousands of years” and were formed “by attacking whirlpools of water and gyrating stones of the Glacial Age that eroded the granite.”
Salmon no longer swim up river to the falls because of a number of power plants located along the Deerfield River. There are three such stations in the Shelburne Falls area as the Deerfield flows between the Village of Shelburne Falls and Buckland, which sit across from each other along the river.
We never know if the spillway or the gates will be open and letting water down across the “potholes” or not. We’ve seen it both ways. The spillway was open but the boards holding most of the river back were closed. While at one time men in rowboats would have had to remove each board one by one when the call came to let more water down stream, nowadays it’s all handled by hydraulics. A line across the river like one might seeing at a swimming area keep any fishermen in rowboats from getting too close to the falls and the strong current that could take them over onto the rocks below.
The falls and potholes are a beautiful sight to see. Dad reminisced about fishing in the deeper potholes when the water was dammed up. He said they would be alert to the siren going off that would let them know the spillway or the boards would be opening. They would then have to get out of the area quickly and back up on the banks.
People come to “The Falls” from all over to see these glacier potholes and to see the second unique item found in town – The Bridge of Flowers.
Once a trolley bridge, which was built in 1908, crossed the Deerfield River from the Village of Shelburne Falls to the town of Buckland. The trolley company went bankrupt in 1928 and the bridge was sold to the Fire & Water District. Costing too much to tear down, a couple Shelburne Falls residents suggested growing flowers on the bridge and in 1929 the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club sponsored the project to turn the deserted bridge into a display of flowers and shrubs. It draws tourists from all over to walk across the bridge in the spring, summer and fall, as it is open from April to the end of October. The bridge after several decades had begun to deteriorate and in 1983 it was renovated for a little more than a half million dollars.
Today there are more than 500 plants on the 400-foot long bridge from annuals to perennials, plants to shrubs to small trees.
While we were there, the village celebrated the 90th anniversary of the bridge’s transformation. The five-arch concrete bridge has a path down its center with flowerbeds along each side. Despite it being October, there were roses, dahlias, daisies and, of course, mums in bloom. Visitors with cameras in hand crossed the bridge, stopping frequently to take photographs. I heard one young boy ask his mother when they would be home. She replied that it took them two hours to arrive in Shelburne Falls and they’d return home later in the afternoon.
It amazed me that all these people had come to see the bridge and possibly take part in the celebration that included a parade of children at the bridge and speeches and cake at the community center. The bridge is maintained by the current Women’s Club and by volunteer help and donations. When dad was just a young boy, he was one of two boys who were asked to help with the weeding of the flowerbeds. He tells me it was he and the son of the minister from the Baptist church, which dad also attended.
Traveling back to Shelburne Falls brought back memories of family vacations and moments that are still remembered – from the old Sweetheart Tea House to Gould’s Sugarhouse and so much more.
If you’ve never been to this northwestern corner of Massachusetts, I’d definitely recommend going. Bed and breakfasts, inns or VBRO sites offer quaint ways to stay in the area. Or if you find yourself traveling north on Interstate 91 and reach Greenfield, Mass., (and have the time) a 20-minute drive west on Route 2, more commonly called the Mohawk Trail, will take you to Shelburne Falls. It’s definitely worth the stop to see the Bridge of Flowers and the historic glacier potholes and even more so to grab a bite to eat. You won’t be disappointed.