The History of New England's Natural Bridge

Compiled and edited by C.A. Chicoine

Sketch by F.D. Woodward - 1872


The aesthetic beauty of New England's Natural Bridge is its marble; the crescent-shaped quarry wall, its blasting rock, and the white marble dam left behind from the quarry operations decades ago. Along with the glacially carved pools and gorges, and the outstanding panoramic views found throughout the park, we have the natural bridge itself—the park's namesake. But this site hasn't always looked like it does today. New England's Natural Bridge has had an extraordinary history!

Geology of Natural Bridge

The origins of the marble found at Natural Bridge began with the deposition of lime mud, or ooze—shell and skeletal debris—during the Cambrian and early part of the Ordovician geologic periods of the Paleozoic Era, covering the time between 541 and 443.8 million years ago. The ooze built up thick layers of sediments on the sea floor; then the great weight of the sediments lithified the lower layers into limestone, a sedimentary rock.

The creation of limestone was followed by two periods of orogeny—or mountain building—which involved the collision of the tectonic plates of the earth's crust. The Taconic orogeny began about 460 million years ago when a fracture formed in the sea floor to the cast of the area, resulting in one part of the sea floor over-riding the other and colliding with an uplifted area now exposed along the face of the Hoosac Mountain. This collision threw up a great range of mountains in the Berkshires. The limestone buried deep in the heart of these mountains were subjected to tremendous pressures and high temperatures which metamorphosed them into marble, a metamorphic rock.

The Taconic orogeny was followed by a period of erosion, during which the sixteen thousand to twenty thousand foot peaks of the ancient Taconic Mountains began to erode away. But then, about four hundred million years ago, the Acadian orogeny began. This orogeny involved the closing of the Iapetus Ocean, and the formation of a high mountain belt. This collision renewed uplift in the Taconic Mountains—and caused further heat and pressure, which brought the marble up to their present highly crystalline condition. When the Acadian orogeny ended 350 million years ago, the ancient Taconic mountains were once again 16-20 thousand feet high; and they spanned an area from the modern day New York - Massachusetts border to the Connecticut River valley, and stretched from Northern Vermont to the middle of Western Connecticut. The marble we see at Natural Bridge was then buried deep within the heart of the mountains, 5 to 7 miles deep.

Since the end of the Acadian orogeny, 350 million years ago, the ancient Taconic Mountains have been eroding down. There were no more great upheavals in New England to renew uplift. Over time, the mountains have eroded down and slowly settled.

As the great weight of the peaks was removed, the underlying crust was able to rise up slowly, bringing deeper and deeper rocks closer and closer to the surface. This is possible in geologic terms because of the underlying layer of the planet, called the mantle, having a plastic consistency. A mountain range will press the crust into the mantle, and when the mountains erode away—their weight being removed—the crust will slowly rise again. As a result, we see the marble, a 550 million year process, exposed at the surface today.

Cultural History of Natural Bridge

As early as the early 1600's, this area was the hunting-grounds of the Hoosacs and Mahicansacs—Algonquian tribes that occupied both banks of the upper Hudson River, extending north almost to Lake Champlain, in New York State. The Mahican Hero and war-captain, Maquon, of the Mahicansac Wolves, occupied the pine grove above the Mayoonsac—the upper Hoosac River—near the Natural Bridge, during their winter hunting seasons.

The first European settlers in this region were the soldiers and their families from Fort Massachusetts. Fort Massachusetts was located in the western frontier of Massachusetts Bay, in the township of East Hoosac, upon a meadow of the Hoosac River, in current day North Adams. It was the westernmost bastion in the northern line of colonial forts, extending from the Connecticut River, over the Hoosac Mountain, to this western frontier during King George's War (1744-1748), in 1745, against the French and their Indian allies. It was also built to prevent Dutch settlers in New York from encroaching upon Massachusetts territory from the west. And it remained active throughout much of the French and Indian War (1754–1763), until 1759, when it was decommissioned following the Battle of Quebec. Fort Massachusetts helped to clear the way for further European settlement into this region.

The first mention of this area from such a settler was of Hudson's Brook. Tradition tells us this brook took its name from a hunter named Seth Hudson, who, one twilight eve in the early 1760's, while dragging home-ward a deer he had killed, lost it in the chasm at Natural Bridge. [You'll find a couple of different versions of this story featured in the article, "Ghosts of the Chasm."] Seth Hudson was a Sentinel, stationed at Fort Massachusetts between 1749 and 1752, and again between 1754-55. And became captain of the block-house at West Hoosac for a time. He was living, at the time of this account, in what was then known as West Hoosac—now Williamstown, Massachusetts.

New England's Natural Bridge is a rare natural attraction of the most curious and beautiful works of nature in the area. In October 1811, Timothy Dwight, president, of Yale University, visited the Natural Bridge and he too seemed to have similar impressions. He said, "The prospect of this chasm from the brink, its great depth, the rugged wildness of the precipices on both sides, the dusky gloom with which it is everywhere shrouded, and the hollow murmur of the stream at the bottom all enhanced by the novelty of the scene produce in the spectator an irresistible shuddering."

The Natural Bridge site is rich with a multitude of minerals, including calcite, muscovite, feldspar, pyrite, and quartz. But it is mostly known for its rich deposits of marble. Beginning in the early 1800's, the marble quarried there was primarily used to make gravestones and a few facings of underpinnings, mantelpieces, fire jams and hearthstones for the better class of dwellings. In these early days of its operation, the quarry was run by many different entities and stone cutting shops.

About 1810 Solomon Sherman, a good workman, commenced the business of stone cutting here for home trade. He was succeeded by Manson Sherman.

About 1830 Elijah Pike, an ingenious workman, and father of sculptor Charles Niles Pike, who sculpted the Civil War memorial soldier monument at Monument Square in downtown North Adams, followed this calling. As the quality of North Adams marble became known a wider market was secured. And in 1835, Dr. E.S. Hawks aided Mr. Pike with capital to improve the ground, lay out a road, put up mills, etc., at an outlay, including the purchase of land and the ledge, for about $1, 800, and commenced the first regular operations at the quarry. In 1837, Mr. Blackinton bought in with Mr. Pike, and they worked the quarry for a short time. It is believed that the white marble dam, built to provide a steady water supply to power the mill operations, was constructed at this time. Then, in 1838, the whole property was sold to William McAuley (whom the road leading up to the present day Visitor's Center is named after) for $7,000.

In the summer of 1838, Nathaniel Hawthorne, an American novelist, who spent many months visiting North Adams, wrote a couple beautiful entries in his journal.

July 31st --

A visit to what is called "Hudson's Cave," or "Hudson's Falls," the tradition being that a man by the name of [Seth] Hudson, many years ago, chasing a deer, the deer fell over the place, which then first became known to white men. It is not properly a cave, but a fissure in a huge ledge of marble, through which a stream has been for ages forcing its way, and has left marks of its gradually wearing power on the tall crags, having made curious hollows from the summit down to the level which it has reached at the present day. The depth of the fissure in some places is at least fifty or sixty feet, perhaps more, and at several points it nearly closes over, and often the sight of the sky is hidden by the interposition of masses of the marble crags. The fissure is very irregular, so as not to be describable in words, and scarcely to be painted,--jetting buttresses, moss-grown, impending crags, with tall trees growing on their verge, nodding over the head of the observer at the bottom of the chasm, and rooted, as it were, in air. The part where the water works its way down is very narrow; but the chasm widens, after the descent, so as to form a spacious chamber between the crags, open to the sky, and its floor is strewn with fallen fragments of marble, and trees that have been precipitated long ago, and are heaped with drift-wood, left there by the freshets, when the scanty stream becomes a considerable waterfall. One crag, with a narrow ridge, which might be climbed without much difficulty, protrudes from the middle of the rock, and divides the fall. The passage through the cave made by the stream is very crooked, and interrupted, not only by fallen wrecks, but by deep pools of water, which probably have been forded by few. As the deepest pool occurs in the most uneven part of the chasm, where the hollows in the sides of the crag are deepest, so that each hollow is almost a cave by itself, I determined to wade through it. There was an accumulation of soft stuff on the bottom, so that the water did not look more than knee-deep; but, finding that my feet sunk in it, I took off my trousers, and waded through up to my middle. Thus I reached the most interesting part of the cave, where the whirlings of the stream had left the marks of its eddies in the solid marble, all up and down the two sides of the chasm. The water is now dammed for the construction of two marble saw-mills, else it would have been impossible to affect the passage; and I presume that, for years after the cave was discovered, the waters roared and tore their way in a torrent through this part of the chasm. While I was there, I heard voices, and a small stone tumbled down; and looking up towards the narrow strip of bright light, and the sunny verdure that peeped over the top,--looking up thither from the deep, gloomy depth,--I saw two or three men; and, not liking to be to them the most curious part of the spectacle, I waded back, and put on my clothes.

The marble crags are overspread with a concretion, which makes them look as gray as granite, except where the continual flow of water keeps them of a snowy whiteness. If they were so white all over, it would be a splendid show. There is a marble-quarry close in the rear, above the cave, and in process of time the whole of the crags will be quarried into tombstones, doorsteps, fronts of edifices, fireplaces, etc. That will be a pity. On such portions of the walls as are within reach, visitors have sculptured their initials, or names at full length; and the white letters showing plainly on the gray surface, they have more obvious effect than such inscriptions generally have. There was formerly, I believe, a complete arch of marble, forming a natural bridge over the top of the cave; but this is no longer so. At the bottom of the broad chamber of the cave, standing in its shadow, the effect of the morning sunshine on the dark or bright foliage of the pines and other trees that cluster on the summits of the crags was particularly beautiful; and it was strange how such great trees had rooted themselves in solid marble, for so it seemed.

Hudson's Cave is formed by Hudson's Brook. There is a natural arch of marble still in one part of it. The cliffs are partly made verdant with green moss, chiefly gray with oxidation; on some parts the white of the marble is seen; in interstices grow brake and other shrubs, so that there is naked sublimity seen through a good deal of clustering beauty. Above, the birch, poplars, and pines grow on the utmost verge of the cliffs, which jut far over, so that they are suspended in air; and whenever the sunshine finds its way into the depths of the chasm, the branches wave across it. There is a lightness, however, about their foliage, which greatly relieves what would otherwise be a gloomy scene. After the passage of the stream through the cliffs of marble, the cliffs separate on either side, and leave it to flow onward; intercepting its passage, however, by fragments of marble, some of them huge ones, which the cliffs have flung down, thundering into the bed of the stream through numberless ages. Doubtless some of these immense fragments had trees growing on them, which have now mouldered away. Decaying trunks are heaped in various parts of the gorge. The pieces of marble that are washed by the water are of a snow-white, and partially covered with a bright green water-moss, making a beautiful contrast.

Among the cliffs, strips of earth-beach extend downward, and trees and large shrubs root themselves in that earth, thus further contrasting the nakedness of the stone with their green foliage. But the immediate part where the stream forces its winding passage through the rock is stern, dark, and mysterious.

Along the road, where it runs beneath a steep, there are high ridges, covered with trees, the dew of midnight damping the earth, far towards midnoon. I observed the shadows of water-insects, as they swam in the pools of a stream. Looking down a streamlet, I saw a trunk of a tree, which has been overthrown by the wind, so as to form a bridge, yet sticking up all its branches, as if it were unwilling to assist anybody over.

Green leaves, following the eddies of the rivulet, were now borne deep under water, and now emerged. Great uprooted trees, adhering midway down a precipice of earth, hung with their tops downward.

In the morning it was cloudy, but did not rain, and I went with the little clergyman to Hudson's Cave. The stream which they call North Branch, and into which Hudson's Brook empties, was much swollen, and tumbled and dashed and whitened over the rocks, and formed real cascades over the dams, and rushed fast along the side of the cliffs, which had their feet in it. Its color was deep brown, owing to the washing of the banks which the rain had poured into it. Looking back, we could see a cloud on Graylock; but on other parts of Saddle Mountain there were spots of sunshine, some of most glorious brightness, contrasting with the general gloom of the sky, and the deep shadow which lay on the earth.

We looked at the spot where the stream makes its entrance into the marble cliff, and it was (this morning, at least) the most striking view of the cave. The water dashed down in a misty cascade, through what looked like the portal of some infernal subterranean structure; and far within the portal we could see the mist and the falling water; and it looked as if, but for these obstructions of view, we might have had a deeper insight into a gloomy region.

August 23rd --

The cave makes a fresh impression upon me every time I visit it,--so deep, so irregular, so gloomy, so stern,--part of its walls the pure white of the marble,--others covered with a gray decomposition and with spots of moss, and with brake growing where there is a handful of earth. I stand and look into its depths at various points, and hear the roar of the stream re-echoing up. It is like a heart that has been rent asunder by a torrent of passion, which has raged and foamed, and left its ineffaceable traces; though now there is but a little rill of feeling at the bottom.

In parts, trees have fallen across the fissure,--trees with large trunks.

I bathed in the stream in this old, secluded spot, which I frequent for that purpose. To reach it, I cross one branch of the stream on stones, and then pass to the other side of a little island, overgrown with trees and underbrush. Where I bathe, the stream has partially dammed itself up by sweeping together tree-trunks and slabs and branches, and a thousand things that have come down its current for years perhaps; so that there is a deep pool, full of eddies and little whirlpools, which would carry me away, did I not take hold of the stem of a small tree that lies opportunely transversely across the water. The bottom is uneven, with rocks of various size, against which it is difficult to keep from stumbling, so rapid is the stream. Sometimes it bears along branches and strips of bark,--sometimes a green leaf, or perchance a dry one,--occasionally overwhelmed by the eddies and borne deep under water, then rushing atop the waves.

The forest, bordering the stream, produces its effect by a complexity of causes,--the old and stern trees, with stately trunks and dark foliage,--as the almost black pines,--the young trees, with lightsome green foliage,--as sapling oaks, maples, and poplars,--then the old, decayed trunks, that are seen lying here and there, all mouldered, so that the foot would sink into them. The sunshine, falling capriciously on a casual branch considerably within the forest verge, while it leaves nearer trees in shadow, leads the imagination into the depths. But it soon becomes bewildered there. Rocks strewn about, half hidden in the fallen leaves, must not be overlooked.

In 1842, in his book, "Sketch of the Scenery of Massachusetts", Edward Hitchcock wrote of Natural Bridge:

The present falls on this rivulet, which runs through the north part of Adams, are of far less interest than the deep chasm which its waters have excavated in the white limestone. This limestone terminates on the south in a high precipice, over which the stream once fell. But it has worn a fissure from 30 to 60 feet deep, and 30 rods long, in this limestone, and left two masses of rock connecting the sides and forming natural bridges: though the upper one is much broken. The lower one is arched, and the stream at present runs 50 feet below it. The medium width of the stream is 15 feet.

Within a few years past, the drill of the quarryman has begun its assaults upon the beautiful white limestone that forms this natural bridge, and the walls of the gorge: and although the intelligent proprietor, whom I met there, partially promised me that he would not mar the beauty of this spot, yet the deep inroads already made upon the upper part of the cliff, are fearfully ominous of the fate of the whole. As I saw it last, the clearing away of some of the rock had brought the natural bridge more distinctly into view. Yet the next advance would take it entirely away. And lest this should be accomplished before a skillful artist shall visit this spot, I thought it better that a sketch should be taken by one not at all accustomed to drawing; than that no memento should be left of this interesting place. Such a sketch is shown in Fig. 42.

In 1848 the North Adams Marble and Lime Company was incorporated with a capital of 175,000, and it continued for a number of years, turning out a large amount of building stone, chimney pieces, window caps, sills, etc., for the New York and western markets. Mr. L. B. Graves was the resident partner. It wasn’t until the 1850’s that steam engines became available to the miners.

D. R. Allen and A. B. Hosley commenced the marble business at the quarry in April 1855. They opened a shop on Eagle Street, north of River Street, in the spring of 1856, and acquired an excellent reputation.

View of Quarry and Dust Mill, looking east, with the Hoosac Mountain in the distance. North Adams Marble Co. Works, April 23d, 1873. Taken by William P. Hurd

Thomas Cushing, in his book, “History of Berkshire County, Massachusetts”, published in 1885, wrote this of Natural Bridge.

The bridge ... is one of the most curious and beautiful works of nature in the State, and one which has recorded its own history for ages, more clearly than any other. At this point Hudson's Brook, which comes in from the northeast, just before its junction with the north branch of the Hoosac, has worn a channel thirty yards long and fifteen feet wide, which, gradually sinking, has left a chasm in the marble, with cliffs on each side, sometimes more than sixty feet high. All over their surface these cliffs are fretted with innumerable rounded indentations, mostly circular, and of moderate depth.

Sometimes they take more grotesque shapes, the most curious resembling a section of an inverted dinner pot. These are generally near the present level of the brook, and large enough to make a niche in which the visitor can ensconce himself comfortably, while he contemplates the marvels of nature about him. But the best point of view is from the middle of the brook, which is easily fordable at most seasons, and at the lower part of its transit through the gorge. Looking up from this wet and slippery standpoint, you will see the chasm spanned at the height of fifty feet by an arch of what is really pure white marble, although vegetation and the elements have somewhat obscured its splendor. Above this, with an interval of some ten feet intervening, was originally another bridge, the ruins of which still remain, but which was broken by quarrymen before the early aestheticism of the region could interrupt the vandalism which had begun to transform it into material for tombstones. The view of the whole structure -- chasm and bridge -- is still strikingly beautiful, as well as of curious interest. It is apparent that, far off in the ages, the brook leaped over a precipice at the southern terminus of the ledge in a waterfall which, if it still existed, would yearly attract thousands of admiring eyes. The charm of the natural bridge and chasm no less deserve such admiration, but rather more. And they would receive it, if a foot bridge were constructed from which the view could be conveniently seen by ladies. Parties of tourists, or excursionists, from which ladies are excluded, are in Berkshire apt to be of small numbers: a solitary Thoreau, or enthusiasts following his footsteps, in couples. We have introduced this description here, to show the inexhaustible amount of beautiful stone stored at a point where it was easily observable by the earliest explorers.

In 1890, The Hoosac Mine Company bought the mine and maintained its operations for fifty-five years.

The quarry at Natural Bridge, circa 1896. (Image courtesy of PaulWMarino.org)

Grace Greylock Niles wrote an entry about the Natural Bridge and its chasm in her book, titled "Bog-Trotting for Orchids", published in 1904;

In August, I explored about Natural Bridge on Hudson's Brook. I wore hob-nailed boots, and made a long day's excursion. Hawthorne knew and loved this wonderful natural feature of Northern Berkshire, and here gathered many fancies, which he has woven into his tales. The chasm of Hudson's Brook is described as the "Cave" in his Notes. His description of the ravine is the finest ever written.

The region is entered either by walking up the bed of the stream itself, or following around the road above Marble Quarry, just east of the chasm. The former is the more direct, but the latter a longer and safer way. In this instance, I followed the traveled highway. I proceeded up the stream where the erosions begin, and readily descended the ravine, following its course downward until I came to a beautiful marble basin or pot-hole formation, which very few see, since it is hidden under the wooden foot-bridge above the natural bridge of rock. Logs and immense rocks barred my way, and I was forced through dark fissures in my ascent to the sunlight.

The pot-hole was evidently the same pool of which Hawthorne wrote: "As the deepest pool occurs in the most uneven part of the chasm, where the hollows in the sides of the crag are deepest, so that each hollow is almost a cave by itself, I determined to wade through it . . . there was an accumulation of soft stuff on the bottom, so that the water did not look more than knee-deep; but, finding that my feet sunk in it, I took off my trousers and waded through." ' He visited this stream often: "The cave makes a fresh impression upon me every time I visit it, — so deep, so irregular, so gloomy, so stern, — part of its walls the pure white of marble, — others covered with a gray decomposition and with spots of moss, and with brake growing where there is a handful of earth."

Hawthorne believed firmly that "a complete arch of marble, forming a natural bridge over the top of the cave," must have covered the whole chasm of the stream at an unknown period. The pot-hole, I am most certain, has been forded by few lads, and it is hardly probable that any other poet or prose master ever disrobed and bathed in its waters as Hawthorne did in 1838. The basin is from six to eight feet deep, with a beautifully rounded, highly polished brim. I christened this bowl " Hawthorne's Bath-tub," and, unable to wade it, climbed out of the ' 'Cave' ' to the light above. I, however, descended again to see the northern portal of the arch below the Bath-Tub. I was interested in the names painted high and low upon the marble rocks. Some visitors had evidently tried to place their initials as high as possible, while others more modest sought to write theirs as low, and in more obscure places. I regretted that I had not brought a pot of red paint and a brush to daub my own title there, with the ambitious crowd.

I found a path up the east bank leading to Marble Quarry and the mill below, where gravestones, door-stones, and various ornaments are manufactured. The most useful piece of work ever turned out here was, in my mind, the Williams College sun-dial tablet, which Hawthorne observed in 1838 as being as large as the top of a 'hogshead.' I have later discovered that this dial was placed near that old Astronomical Observatory on Consumption Hill, near the present College Library, — the first building of its kind erected in the United States, for the study of the worlds above, by Professor Albert Hopkins, in 1838. The bronze sun-dial was supported upon the marble table which Hawthorne saw at the quarry. Around it was carved in the soft marble the now dim inscription: "HOW IS IT THAT YE DO NOT DISCERN THIS TIME." [Editor's Note: This dial is now among the relics in the William's College Museum.]

During the time of the Hoosac Mine Company's run, they built a three-story facility to house their operations. There they produced a wide variety of by-products that included poultry grit, powder for toothpaste, face paint, and other items along with their main stone products.

Early Preservation Movements for Natural Bridge

The preservation of the Natural Bridge had been urged from time to time in the past. On a few occasions, individuals and groups have stirred public interest in such a project to protect the bridge and gorge from destruction by the quarrying operation nearby. But these efforts have never been successful.

The first of one of these attempts was in 1891. At the first annual report of the Trustees of Public Reservations—what would become The Trustees of Reservations—following was recorded:

“There must be in Massachusetts,” observes the report in this connection, “numerous other places somewhat similarly identified with honored names, and this board will always be glad to interest itself in their permanent preservation. Among the many spots suggested by other persons as being worthy of preservation on account of their special beauty or charm may be named the following: the banks of Charles River at Newton Upper Falls, the Falls of Beaver Brook in Belmont, the top of Shootflying Hill in Barnstable, the Purgatory in Sutton, the Glen at Whately, the Natural Bridge near North Adams, the Ravine of the Bash Bish in Mount Washington.

And, in 1897, Mr. George N. Rich—a prominent builder in North Adams—had other plans for the site. Below is an article from the North Adams Transcript, dated June 15, 1897.

There will be general interest in the act that George N. Rich, who owns the Natural Bridge property, has decided to convert it into a park and will begin operations within a month.

The Natural Bridge has always been a popular resort for lovers of nature, and ... of the points of interest to visitors from other places, and can easily be made much more attractive than it is now. This Mr. Rich will proceed to do, believing that the enterprise will not only be a great public benefit, but one of profit as well.

Mr. Rich owns 60 acres, 20 of which will be devoted to park uses. Among the improvements contemplated are the removal of a small house by the road leading to the bridge and the building of a bridge over the stream, some rods above the present one. This will make a good entrance to the park from the west. All of the bridges will be supplied with heavy iron railings so that people can ... from them good views of the chasm with safety, and iron railings will also be set at each side of the Natural bridge, which visitors now have to exercise some care in crossing, and where it is by no means safe to allow children to go unattended. A stairway will be built leading over the base of the quarry up to the Natural bridge, and also an iron stairway and walk will be built under the arch so that people can safely and easily inspect the under side of this interesting rock formation. This will be the greatest improvement of all, as it is the desire of every visitor to pass down under the bridge, and yet comparatively few do so go to the discomfort and risk attending the undertaking. A very extensive cave near the bridge will be opened. This cave can be entered now by crawling through a small opening, and by blasting away a quantity of rock it will be made accessible to people who do not want to get down and crawl into it like a snake. There is something strangely fascinating about a cave and by opening a door to this one, much will be added to the attraction of the place.

There is a long pond some distance above the bridge on which row boats are used. This pond will be nearly doubled in size and supplied with attractive boats, and will be a source of great pleasure to the children. The wagon road leading from the quarry to the top of the hill will be widened and improved, and ultimately a road may opened through land owned by Mr. -- Preston, leading from the park to the Stamford road. This would add to the attractions of the place for such as should visit it by team.

Drives and walks will be opened through the grounds, rustic seats, ice cream pavilions, etc., will be put up, with swings and such other attractions as a park demands, and the grounds will be beautiful with flowers and shrubbery. There are several other improvements which can easily be made.

Just below the Natural bridge the formation of the quarry is such that by a little damming a handsome pond could be formed. This would be fed by a pipe connected with the large cylinder which conveys water from above the bridge to the mill below, and the fall is such that a fountain rising from 30 to 40 feet could easily be had. This would add greatly to the beauty of the place, and in connection with it there might profitably be established a small building for plunge and shower baths, which would be sure of a liberal patronage here, where most people are compelled to confine their bathing operations within the narrow limits of a bathtub. If found desirable the grounds and bridge can be cheaply lighted by electricity with power from the mill, which is a part of the property.

To make all of these improvements will call for a large outlay and not all will be done this year, but it is Mr. Rich's intention to make a substantial beginning. It being a private enterprise, Mr. Rich will be obliged to get his returns from admission fees or by charging a small sum for the privilege of entering the cave and passing under the bridge. In either case the charges will be small, as the profits from an enterprise of such, a character come from large numbers of visitors rather than from large prices.

The extension of the Hoosac Valley street railroad to the Beaver makes the Natural bridge more accessible than ever before, and visitors are more numerous this summer than in any past season.

With the improvement which have been planned, the place will become one of the most attractive spots in Berkshire county, of which it has always been one of the greatest natural wonders.

Mr. Rich's plans really sounded grand. However, the plans were never followed through, for whatever reason. He did own the property for a short time—it is unclear at this time when he made the purchase. But, he sold it in March of 1898.

From the North Adams Transcript, September 3, 1897

From the North Adams Transcript, September 4, 1897

In 1935, Dr. Bradford Williams, field secretary for the Massachusetts Trustees of Public Reservations, expressed the opinion that the spot should be publicly owned and preserved.

Then, in 1936, during one of Fred E. Jeanton's campaigns for mayor, Dr. Martin M. Brown, an associate of Mr. Jeanton on the school committee, former councilman and a long leading advocate of improved park and recreational developments in North Adams, spoke afterwards, saying that the city should try to secure state co-operation for the purpose of making the Natural Bridge area, which he classified as "one of our greatest assets," a state park. He said that nature has provided everything there and that something should be done to develop it.

And again, in 1937, Dr. Brown asserted that this city has been asleep to the unrivaled natural assets it possesses. He urged, in an address at the Kiwanis club's weekly luncheon meeting on April 27th, that steps need to be taken immediately to acquire the natural bridge and the Cascade properties and convert them into park resorts.

Although the natural bridge, which he called the greatest single natural asset of the city, has been endangered by the quarrying operations, which have extended to within a few feet of it, Dr. Brown outlined a plan to his fellow Kiwanians by which the quarry itself could be fitted into an attractive development taking in the entire area about the natural bridge. He visualized the development of a swimming pool of safe depth in the floor of the deeply-cut quarry pit, with bathhouses about it and fountains at its fringes playing streams of crystal water against the backdrop of the stark white limestone walls of the quarry, asserting that in the sunlight they would present a magical picture.

The natural bridge itself would, of course, be protected from damage from further quarrying by the acquisition of this property, while it should be made safely and easily accessible, he said. The property about it on Hudson's Brook, he argued, could and should be developed also as a public park. This development, because of its magnitude and because of the special importance of the natural bridge, the only one in New England, might properly be carried on as a state park project, Dr. Brown said.

"Let's awaken to the fact that we are residents of no mean city," Dr. Brown said in conclusion. "Let us build into our hearts a greater appreciation of the natural resources and assets that have been given us and make better use of the environment we possess for our own enjoyment and for the pleasure of the strangers who may be attracted here for rest and recreation."

The last of such preservation attempts was in April of 1949 when the Berkshire Hills conference considered purchasing the area for a public park. The action was spearheaded by Sidney M. Chisholm, former manager of the Richmond-Wellington hotels here, now head of a large hotel in Cleveland.

Balked, however, in that venture by a character clause, forbidding the organization to buy or hold title to the property, the conference passed a resolution calling for the state to take over the land as a public park.

Commissioner of Conversation Arthur T. Lyman, along with a group of legislators and conference officials inspected the spot with Mr. Lyman declaring that is had "distinct possibilities". But apparently, the state's interest soon faded out, for no action was taken by the state toward acquiring the property.

The Quarry at Work in 1927

An interesting description of the operations at the Hoosac Marble Company's Natural Bridge quarry in this city is contained in an article entitled "No Place for Crushed Stone Salesman in This Enterprising Company" written by George Ransom and appearing in the December 1927 issue of Pit and Quarry, a trade publication. The article is well illustrated with pictures of the quarry and its surroundings. The article is as follows:

"North Adams, Massachusetts is widely known by motorists for being situated at the western end of the famous Mohawk Trail. It is also well known to eastern producers of limestone products for being in the heart of the limestone country of the Berkshire Hills with its many quarries and kilns. The Hoosac Marble Company of which Mr. P. J. Ashe is president, treasurer, and general manager is located on the outskirts of North Adams. It is somewhat different from other operations in the vicinity in that it has its own water power plant and that it has an excellent quarry of beautifully crystallized friable stone testing 98 percent calcium carbonate. It is, furthermore, of such a quality as to be useful for a surprising variety of purposes other than burning which is not done here at all. These are, namely: cast stone, dash, hen, and chicken grit (two sizes) the chemical industry, pigment for paint, putty, soap and so forth. The character of all these products is of a high as quality as may be easily realized when it is said that they are shipped to such distant points as Cuba and Mexico.

"The best way to see how such an interesting line is produced is to follow operations through from the beginning. The overburden is taken off with a drag-line operated by a Fordson tractor, the dirt being scraped off the top of a natural bank which finally disposes of it.

"Drilling is done with Sullivan jackhammers in 15-foot benches and blasting with DuPont dynamite. The stone is picked up by hand and placed in Keppel side dump cars running on tracks secured from the Berkshire Mill Supply Company. They descend to the mill over a slight down-grade so that haulage is not necessary. At the present time, however, the floor of the quarry is being lowered 15 feet and it will then be necessary to haul the cars up a grade to the point where the descent to the mill begins. It is planned to use the Fordson and a winch for this purpose. In spite of the severe winters in this high region, the quarry is run all winter.

"When the loaded quarry cars arrive at the mill they are dumped into bins, the finest grade of white stone being kept separate from the others. The 10 by 16 Farrell jaw crusher is fed from these bins. From the primary crusher, the stone is taken by an elevator to a Number 1 1-2 Sturtevant balanced roll crusher. The crushed material next goes by elevator to a Sturtevant vibrating screen in which meshes of various sizes may be placed depending on the product desired. What passes through this goes into a bin with a bagging spout below. Actually, there are a number of bins at this point into which the different sizes and grades are deposited. They all hare spouts for bagging. The oversizes from the vibrating screen are elevated to the Abbe ball mill or they may be sent back to the roll crusher. After passing through the ball mill they are elevated to an Abbe rod mill from which they drop into a bin. Under this, there is a Stunevant weighing machine for bagging.

"We now come to one of the most interesting parts of this rather unusual plant. That is the power equipment. As Mr. Ashe says, 'All water and Henry Ford furnish all our power.' This is substantially true although he might have included 'Mr. Diesel.' As we have already seen the Fordson tractor is used for the drag-line in stripping and will be used with a winch to haul quarry cars. Of course, it is used in many other ways when necessary. The elevator has been made on the job by Mr. McDougal, the superintendent. Goodyear and Sagamore rubber fabric transmission belts are used.

"The water power comes from a small stream which has cut its way in the most curious manner through the limestone formation, in one place leaving a natural bridge. It has been dammed at two points, the upper dam forming a good storage reservoir. A 50-foot head is available below the lower dam by means of which 16C H. P. has been developed with a Francis turbine made by the Pelton Water Wheel Company. This furnishes sufficient power to run the mill for at least eight months in the year—sometimes throughout the year. To provide against the contingency Mr. Ashe has installed a 120 H. P. Fairbanks-Morse Diesel engine. This is placed in a building by itself so as to be away from the dust of the mill but as a double precaution, a dust filter has also been Installed. It is connected to the driving shaft by means of a Hill type clutch and can be run in conjunction with the water turbine where there is not sufficient water to run the latter at full capacity.

“The plant is located about two miles from the railroad. Consequently, it is necessary to truck the finished materials this for shipment. A Mack truck is used for this purpose and it takes 14 five ton loads a day to the station. From the illustrations, it will be seen that although the operation is moderate in size it is very well equipped and has an air of well-managed prosperity. As Mr. Ashe says, 'We have no sales force and yet we are never able to keep up with our orders.' A quality product of uniform excellence certainly has its advantages.”

After running the mining operation for fifty-five years, the Hoosac Marble Company sold the business in 1945 to Micro-White Company, a New York-based Business.

In 1947, a dynamite explosion torched the mill, and the Micro-White Company went bankrupt.

New England's Natural Bridge Finally Becomes a Park

In July of 1950, Edward J. Elder, proprietor of Elder's Printing Company (and an amateur geologist), along with his wife, Agnes A. Elder, single-handedly did what local, county, and state organizations couldn't accomplish—they developed Natural Bridge into a tourist attraction. Mr. Elder purchased the entire property, including Hudson's Brook gorge and dam and the Natural Bridge and its adjacent quarry from the Micro-White Corporation of New York City.

"We visited the Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest in our travels before it finally hit me," Mr. Elder said in an interview in 1983. "I told my wife that what we had been looking for was right in our own backyard."

New England's Natural Bridge was opened to the public in time for the Fall Foliage Festival in October of 1950. They operated the New England's Natural Bridge tourist attraction until 1983. They charged adults an admission fee (fifty cents in 1967, and one dollar, by its closing in 1983), while children under twelve were free. And it included a guided tour by Mr. Elder who could tell you anything about the geology and history of the area.

Mr. and Mrs. Elder spent countless hours clearing away the rubble and shrubs. And they built a series of walkways that allowed tourists to view the natural beauty of this incredible area. In 1955, Mr. Elder provided some pieces of marble from the park to the Sports and Vacation Show at Kingsbridge Armory, in New York City, as a part of the Berkshire Hills Conference booth. And Mr. Elder had some samples of rocks from the park (sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous) shown at the 1964 New York World's Fair as a part of the New England exhibit.


New England's Natural Bridge was featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not! syndicated newspaper cartoon panel in August 1960.

In December of 1980, Mr. Elder offered the site for sale in order to "put my house in order." Mr. Elder had some offers but said ideally he would like to see it administered by the National Park Service, to assure its protection from exploitation. "I've tried to keep it as natural as possible," Mr. Elder once said in an interview from 1980. He did not sell soft drinks or food on the premises to guard against littering. "I could have made more money off it if I had wanted to exploit it. I've made a few bucks," he continued. "God has been good to me. I've always had enough to carry on."

In 1983, the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) secured an option to buy the park. The then Regional DEM Director, the late Douglas G. Poland, said at the time that he was "very pleased with the site [and thinks] it will make a good addition to our state parks and forests." However, it would be months of negotiations before DEM signed a new purchase and sales agreement. In January of 1984, Mr. Elder died with the sale remaining incomplete. In 1985, Edward Elders’ widow sold the property to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management in order to maintain the site and to continue sharing the natural beauty with the public.

Presently, Natural Bridge is operated by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation. Their enhancements include a picnic area and visitors center with restroom facilities.

As part of their on-going Sound Art exhibition, in 1999, MASS MoCA, featured Music for a Quarry, by Walter Fähndrich. In Music for a Quarry, clear tones call across the natural amphitheater of the old quarry for fifteen minutes at twilight every evening. Working with the latitude and longitude of the quarry, a computer program begins the music at the same solar time (rather than clock time) each night. The start time (near 8 or 9 pm in summer, near 4 pm at the winter solstice) changes as the spatial relationship between the earth and sun changes. The first tone appears at the precise moment of astronomical sunset, a moment that is both permanently fixed and changing daily. During this fifteen-minute period, the burden of comprehending the physical space shifts slowly from the eye to the ear as the sounds are traced to their sources.

In 2004, the Guardian Sculpture Garden was created. This striking permanent installation, made up of nine cast concrete sculptures created by local teen artists, is the result of nearly four years of planning, collaboration, and hard work. The Guardians were designed to honor and protect the natural beauty of our area. Each individual Guardian represents a young artist’s vision of guardianship. The Guardian Project was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.


New England's Natural Bridge is a notable historic landscape that showcases a geologic marvel and tells a history of the region predating human settlement. From the 550 million year process of creating and bringing the earth's marble up to the surface, to the nearly 140 years of man excavating it from the ground, we can behold the geological and industrial treasures left behind.

Discover a geologic wonder at this 48-acre park. Examine the natural bridge up close, and from afar, over the network of boardwalks. Walk across the iron bridge and take in the sight and sound of the man-made white marble dam, built in the early 1800's to supply power to the quarry mill. And tour the old abandoned marble quarry; the 80-foot, crescent-shaped wall of marble, and its blasting rock. And catch glimpses of the remnants of its operations.

In the summer months, knowledgeable park interpreters are on hand to explain the natural forces that created the bridge and its more recent human-related history. There is a 0.25-mile walkway above and through the chasm, and a 0.5-mile wooded walking trail.

It's marbleous!

Note: The marble dam is registered at the Massachusetts Historical Commission. The Canedy - Elder House, once on the property—built in 1845—was also registered. It was demolished soon after DCR purchased the property.

Last updated: October 2017