Natural Bridge State Park
Welcome to Natural Bridge State Park. Maintained by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management (DEM) on behalf of the citizens of the Commonwealth, this unusual state park is a record of natural events that began over 500 million years ago. The park’s natural marble bridge is unique in North America. It is not only a visual delight but a key to understanding our planet’s complex evolution.
Natural Bridge is located on Route 8, 1/2 mile north of downtown North Adams.
The origins of Natural Bridge lie in the Cambrian period of the Paleozoic Era occurring 550 million years ago. The warm shallow oceans deposited sea shells which dissolved into a white chalky calcium carbonate sediment. The calcium carbonate piled up to such depth that its own weight compressed it into a soft, sedimentary rock now known as limestone. The Berkshire mountains that surround this area were formed by slow, colossal continental collisions called orogenies. The slow process of mountain building buckled, folded and lifted the earth’s crust, forming mountain ranges. The Taconic mountains to the west and the Hoosac range to the east originally reached heights of 14,00020,000 feet. However, 350 million years of erosion have removed much of the rock. The sparkling crystalline marble you see today was formed when limestone was metamorphosed and recrystallized by tremendous pressure and heat during mountain formation. The final chapter of the Natural Bridge story began with a climate change and the arrival of the Ice Age about 2,000,000 years ago. After several advances and retreats across New England, the last ice sheet retreated 13,000 years ago. The meltwaters from mile-thick glaciers cut deeper and deeper, sculpting the Hudson Brook chasm and the marble bridge that spans it.
The first European to describe this area was Seth Hudson, a hunter working for Fort Massachusetts in the 1700s. The brook flowing under the Natural Bridge bears his name – Hudson Brook; doubtless the Mohawk Indians who traveled through this part of the Hoosac range long before the arrival of white settlers had their own name for the wondrous bridge and its surroundings. In the summer of 1838, Nathaniel Hawthorne, the noted romantic writer, spent time in the North Adams area. He wrote of Natural Bridge: “The cave makes a fresh impression on me every time I visit it . . so deep, so irregular, so gloomy, so stem.” [from An American Notebook].
The value of Natural Bridge marble as a building material was recognized in 1810; quarrying soon began. This quarry produced most of the white marble used for tombstones in local cemeteries and mantel pieces, fire jambs and hearthstones. The growing popularity of marble created a wider market, and the first regular operations at the quarry commenced in 1837. A mill was built to produce a variety of by-products: poultry grit, powder for toothpaste, face powder, pigment for paint, putty and soap. The 98 per cent calcium carbonate was also used as a neutralizer in the chemical industry. In 1947, the quarry was yielding 200 tons of stone a day when the buildings on the site were destroyed by fire. The New York-based company that owned the quarry sold it to Edward Elder, who managed the area as a tourist attraction until his death in 1984. The following year, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management purchased the site from his widow in order to preserve this unique geological feature in its natural condition, as a state park.
Because of its special natural features’ Natural Bridge requires visitors to be especially careful.
The following activities are prohibited:
* rock climbing
* walking through the chasm
* walking close to quarry walls
* removing or defacing rocks
Natural Bridge State Park is a day use facility, open seven days a week from Memorial Day through Columbus Day. A fee of MW per vehicle is charged. Rest rooms, grills, and picnic tables are available.
For further information, or to confirm dates, hours and fees, please write or call:
Natural Bridge State Park
P.O. Box 1757
North Adams, MA 01247