Just by the border with New Hampshire stands Bellows Falls, a ‘village’ of 3,500 people within the town of Rockingham. It was named after Colonel Benjamin Bellows who is considered to be a founder even though he actually lived on the other side of the river in New Hampshire. The village stands by a gorge on the Connecticut River known as the Great Falls. In 1785 a covered bridge was constructed across this narrow gorge, the first along the entire length of the river. The bridge made Bellows Falls an important trading and industrial centre. In 1802 the Bellows Falls Canal was completed, allowing ships to navigate past the gorge then in 1849 not one, but two railroad lines arrived and Bellows Falls boomed. It became a centre for manufacture of farm machinery, milk processing and paper making. Bellows Falls went into decline in the 1920s but has retained many buildings from its industrial past.
Miss Bellows Falls Diner
Worcester Lunch Car Company was a well known manufacturer of Diners in the first half of the 20th century. Around 1930 one of their diners was built in Worcester, Massachusetts and in 1942 it was moved to Bellows Falls. Originally called Frankie and Johnny´s Diner, at some point it was renamed Miss Bellows Falls Diner in order to attract more women. The 9 by 5 metre (30 by 16 foot) diner is a rare intact example of a Worcester Lunch Car Diner complete with its distinctive barrel roof and porcelain enamelled metal sheathing. Sadly it was closed when we visited Bellows Falls, but we were able to see inside through the door. Click Tab 2 to see the interior of the diner.
Bellows Falls Union Station
Bellows Falls still has a railroad used by both freight services and Amtrak passenger services. Amtrak’s Vermonter train from St Albans VT to Washington DC stops here. Bellows Falls is also the start of one of three routes in Vermont and New Hampshire run by the Green Mountain Railroad. On certain days in summer and autumn the Green Mountain Flyer runs between Bellows Falls Union Station and Chester Depot. The journey takes about two hours in a train of restored coaches pulled by a vintage diesel locomotive.
We spent our time in the Bellows Falls Downtown Historic District (or should if be downvillage?) where there are many old industrial buildings. Rockingham Street is the main thoroughfare through the village. There is a mixture of old and new buildings, but the new ones have been designed to blend in. On the right is the tower of the Rockingham Town Hall which was built in 1926 after its predecessor burned down. To the south of downtown is the Bellows Falls Neighborhood Historic District which has many old houses that were built for the owners and managers of the canal, railroad and industrial companies based in the area.
Bellows Falls Canal
Before the railroads arrived it was more practical to use rivers to move goods than to take them overland. The Great Falls were a major obstacle to river navigation, so between 1791 and 1802 the Bellows Falls Canal was constructed around the gorge. Via a series of eight locks it lifted boats over 15 metres (50 feet). It was the first transportation canal constructed in the USA, completed more than two decades before the famous Erie Canal. Although the Bellows Falls Canal is no longer needed for transportation, it is now used to generate electricity.
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