Bellows Falls is an incorporated village located in the town of Rockingham in Windham County, Vermont, United States. The population was 3,165 at the 2000 census. Bellows Falls is home to the Green Mountain Railroad, a heritage railroad; the annual Roots on the River Festival; and the No Film Film Festival.
The falls were once a fishing place for the historic, nomadic Abenaki tribes, who were part of the Algonquian language family. They caught plentiful salmon and shad. Indigenous peoples had fished at the falls and inhabited the area for thousands of years before European arrival. They carved two sets of faces in the rocks just below the falls (see Bellows Falls Petroglyph Site (VT-WD-8)).
The community was settled in 1753 by colonists of English descent, who called it Great Falls. Later the settlers named the town for Colonel Benjamin Bellows, a landowner. In 1785, Colonel Enoch Hale built at the falls the first bridge over the Connecticut River. It was the only bridge across the river for more than 10 years, until 1796, when another was built at Springfield, Massachusetts. The bridge was later replaced. Two bridges currently link Bellows Falls to New Hampshire: the New Arch Bridge (also called the Church Street Bridge), which replaced the Arch Bridge in 1982, and the Vilas Bridge, which was closed due to safety concerns in 2009.
The Bellows Falls Canal, built in 1791-1802, lifted boats 52 feet (16 m) in eight locks around the gorge. It tapped the water power of the falls for industry. This created the industrialization of the town.
In 1802, entrepreneurs built the first paper mill in Windham, County. Two railroads converged in 1849 at Bellows Falls, helping it develop into a major mill town. By 1859, a woolen textile mill was operating, in addition to factories that produced furniture, marble, sashes and blinds, iron castings, carriages, cabinet ware, rifles, harness, shoe pegs and organs. The principal products, however, were paper and farm machinery. Bellows Falls was incorporated as a village in 1909.
The years of industry created wealth in the town, and substantial Victorian houses and mercantile buildings were constructed. Bellows Falls today attracts visitors through heritage tourism based on its historic Victorian architecture.