Many of the Northeast's remaining early bridges built primarily for foot traffic were constructed to make life easier for workmen to access a factory or mill powered by that ubiquitous energy provider -- water. Other bridges came later, and in the later 1800s and early 1900s foot bridges also provided shortcuts to the trolley lines.
Some have been closed, including the Bel Air Footbridge between Wahconah Street and Lenox Avenue in Pittsfield, and others have been removed altogether. On the other hand, with the increase in lands protected for nature study and passive recreation, footbridges, or pedestrian crossings, too many to count, have been installed along woodland trails in more recent times.
My interest in writing about footbridges really began in earnest a few years ago, after reading "A Lucky Irish Lad" by Kevin O'Hara (2010). In recalling the west branch of the Housatonic River in his hometown of Pittsfield, he wrote, "The river's hallmark was the metal footbridge that spanned Bel Air Falls, a marvelous cascade that tumbled into a basin of white boulders below.
"This old footbridge was the most direct path to school."
Sadly, the bridge had fallen into such disrepair that it is now gated with signage prohibiting trespassing. And equally sadly, the school he refers to is now an open lot.
But Pittsfield has other footbridges. One, a metal bridge in need of a fresh coat of paint, but otherwise in good condition, crosses the east branch of the Housatonic River on East Street.
Another, a low wood and not-very-picturesque structure, crosses the west branch of the river between Boylston Street and Boylston Street Extension. (A well-kept green metal bridge spanning the west branch on Route 20 just past McDonald's is private.)
Perhaps the most missed footbridge once brought throngs over the railroad tracks at Union Station -- the area now occupied by The Big Y. It was dismantled during urban renewal but not entirely lost. A section was relocated to Quirk's Marine and can be seen from Valentine Road.
Hikers on Mount Greylock in Adams and surrounding foothills have a number of bridges. Among others, there are footbridges on Mount Greylock along the Roaring Brook trail, and we crossed a sizable one to explore the Cascades in North Adams.
Another, as Lauren Stevens of Williamstown reminded me, is the "bridge over Money Brook in the Hopper, built by the Williams Outing Club in memory of Bob Quay ‘04, who died in an accident shortly after he graduated."
Stevens also surprised me with a story: "The ghost bridge appears periodically on the riverside trail near Cole Field at Williams. No one knows who keeps reconstructing the bridge there. There's a similar bridge maintained by anonymous on the RRR Brooks Trail above Flora Glen."
Flora Glen is a burbling mountain brook I hope to visit sometime soon. (RRR Brooks Trail connects to the Taconic Crest Trail to the west and runs to the Bee Hill Road Bridge .)
With about 15 miles of trails, Hopkins Forest in Williamstown has its share of footbridges, including a four-year-old plank bridge over Birch Brook. Andrew Jones, Hopkins Forest Manager, tells of a new bridge on their property.
"We built that bridge over an un-named tributary of the Hoosic River last fall on the Hoosic River trail," he said.
The wooden bridge is 6 feet wide, has double handrails and is designed to support the occasional equestrian traffic that that trail gets in the summer.
And speaking of foot traffic, the thousands of visitors who come to the Sterling Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown each year cross over a new hand-crafted wooden footbridge to climb Stone Hill behind the museum.
Cows still graze these fields in season, so watch your step.
Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary accessed by Pomeroy Avenue in Pittsfield entrance offers a large footbridge along the Sacred Way Trail dedicated in 2004 to an old friend and conservationist, Mary England.
In Hinsdale, the new footbridge along The Old Mill Trail is made of fiberglass plastic and was carried by volunteers in pieces to its present location for assembly. The trailhead lies off Old Dalton Road near junction with Route 8 -- on the east side of Route 8, on the left for someone traveling south from Pittsfield and Dalton.
The 11-mile Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, between Lanesborough and Adams, has a number of converted railway bridges, and may, in our lifetime, connect to North Adams' Greylock Market and on to Williamstown.
On the west side of Williamstown's Oblong Road, approximately a quarter mile south of its intersection with Sloan Road, the Phelps Trail climbs through land purchased by the commonwealth as part of the Phelps Farm Preservation Project. You'll find an extensive boardwalk, a footbridge with "short legs."
Finally, foot bridges, stairs, look platforms, all of steel, make enjoying the only water-eroded natural marble bridge in North America safely accessible to most visitors. Natural Bridge is on Route 8, half a mile north of downtown North Adams.