New England is a land drenched in history. Cobblestone streets, costumed characters, and endless tours confirm this nearly fantastical theme from Boston to Bar Harbor. However, most times it seems too distant to actually experience. While you walk the same streets as Paul Revere, you can’t quite imagine him grabbing a pint at the Bell In Hand next to the sorority girl working on her third attempt at an acceptable selfie. In some respects, it’s difficult to appreciate those historical subtleties when the current context is so contradicting. At those times, you have to escape the city limits and find those monuments that still stand testament to a past life. Things that are tangible, able to be experienced, almost precisely as they were before. Some of my personal favorite artifacts for this purpose would have to be steel bridges.
While the history behind the steel bridges, specifically in MA for this post, is one of my main appreciations, the architecture of these bridges proves to be the most powerful. Their intricate structure, massive expansion, and longevity define the true definition of awesome. Standing on, or under these bridges, I couldn’t shake the comparison in my mind to cathedrals. They are the Cathedrals of Rivers. As ludicrous as that sounds, I challenge you to stand on the Schell Bridge and not be moved the same way.
These bridges all, roughly, follow Route 2A from Boston to Western MA. They are nearest or even in Shelburne Falls. While some are active, others abandoned, and some just for walking, all provide a great experience into the past of how this state was built. The trips to these locations take you through colonial homesteads, rural towns, and vast farmlands.
Schell Bridge – Northfield, MA
The Schell Bridge was apparently created by an affluent member of Northfield wanted to make it from downtown to the train station across the river. More extraordinary than that, is that it still stands today. Contracts were given in 1999 to tear it down, yet it remains an historic piece of the town. A few groups have been created to preserve it, yet large metal plates have been welded across the gates in an attempt to prevent access. This is the most gorgeous abandoned bridge in MA I’ve been able to discover. The deck of the bridge is blocks of wood with bright green moss breaking through the seams. The ironwork is extraordinary. I’ll let the pictures speak for that. However, the greatest characteristic of the Schell is that it’s perfectly hidden. If you go to the end of East Northfield Road, you’ll encounter the same scene as every other dead end. The only difference however, is that between the trees there is what appears to be a small walking path. A few paces on that path and you notice that it’s actually paved, and widens into more of a fourwheeler trail. One hundred more feet and you emerge onto a recognizable street strewn with branches and debris. Then, out of nowhere, explodes a bridge out of the vegetation. Be careful around this bridge, but go see it before it’s torn down.
Bardwells Ferry Bridge – Conway, MA
If there is a favorite pick for an active steel bridge, Bardwell’s is the winner. While this bridge is an active spot for fishing, boating, and provides a decent swimming destination, it’s the ride in that will provide the charm. The narrow back roads wind in tight curves between old farm lands and nearly on top of old colonial homes. There were actually several times where I stopped as I thought I was riding up a private driveway as I came up to the front of a house, just to come close enough to see the road barely snuck by. Vintage gas pumps and rolling hills line the way. After a few miles, you cross a train track and pop right onto the bridge. Come next summer, this will be the first swimming adventure.
Bridge of Flowers – Shelburne, MA
A bit of a deviation from abandoned and steel bridges, yet the Bridge of Flowers is something to be seen. While you might have to shuffle past a few elderly tourists, this bridge is a great sight in the Americana town of Shelburne. I could share another post of the benefits of taking a journey to Shelburne, but I’ll spare that for now. However, this bridge alone and its vibrant spectacle should be part of the draw.
French King Bridge – Erving, MA
From the top, the French King Bridge is far from spectacular. It appears as ordinary as every other overpass. Yet, the supporting structure is quite incredible. Conveniently there are some paths that wrap around to the underside of the bridge which provides a great view of its span over the Connecticut River. Don’t plan on staying too long however, as some of the trucks can make it a loud venue.
Walking Bridge to Abandoned United Cooperative Farmers – Fitchburg, MA
The town of Fitchburg has a lot of rough spots. One towards the center of town would be the United Farmers Cooperative building. An abandoned structure with a web of railroad tracks leading right through. In a blue collar town, this bridge connecting the local homes with plant serves as a nostalgic tribute to some of its finer days. Currently, it provides shelter for drug use over torn chairs and weathered couches.
East Mineral Road, Walking Bridge – Erving, MA
This little gem is right under the French King Bridge. I discovered it by accident, and it only happens to be a walking bridge. However, on the other side is a great old house of what historical context I don’t know. However, on a sunny day, there’s a great rock outlook of the French King Bridge to the right, and a little beach perfect for a campfire.