When you hear someone refer to "The Bridges of Madison County," I bet your first thought is the movie with Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. If you are an avid reader, it's the best-selling novel that preceded the film by a few years. Many people are not aware that those beautiful covered bridges Clint's character went to photograph are located in a picturesque area of Iowa less than an hour's drive from Des Moines.
The official name for this area is Covered Bridges Scenic Byway. It is one of Iowa's newest scenic byways. At 82 miles long, this byway is packed with beautiful natural places and unique destinations like John Wayne's Birthplace. There's enough to see and do in Madison County to fill a two- or 3-day weekend.
If you are like me, you may need a second trip to see and experience it all!
I recommend stopping at the Madison County Chamber of Commerce's Welcome Center to pick up a map and brochure of the bridges. The bridges are scattered throughout the county, and you will be driving many gravel roads this weekend, so plan accordingly. It is on Winterset's beautiful town square at 73 Jefferson Street .
When I visited in 2017, Madison County had five covered bridges. Sadly, the sixth one, Cedar Covered Bridge, had just been destroyed by an arsonist fire a few months before. They are planning to rebuild it soon, and I hope to return to visit it one day!
Hogback Covered Bridge was my favorite and the most photogenic of all the Madison County Bridges. It was built in 1884 and still sits in its original location. This bridge was named after the limestone ridge forming the valley's west end.
The Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge, which was constructed in 1870, is currently located in Winterset City Park. It is common for covered bridges to be named after the nearby residents, and in this case, both the Cutler and Donahoe families claimed the right to name the bridge. As a result, it was given a hyphenated name. The bridge was transported 18 miles to the park just in time for Madison County's inaugural Covered Bridge Festival.
The Madison County Covered Bridge Festival, a yearly event, takes place every October.
Discover another captivating highlight within the park - Clark Tower. This structure stands as a memorial to Madison County's earliest pioneer family and was skillfully constructed in 1926 by their descendants using native limestone found in the area. To reach this awe-inspiring tower, embark on a scenic drive through the park's enchanting natural resource area characterized by abundant woodland and thriving wildlife populations. Be prepared to encounter deer, turkey, pheasant, and other fascinating upland game creatures along your way.
The Madison County Historical Complex is a real gem! I wish I had more time to explore this place because it is not your typical historical museum. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and I didn't even get a chance to visit the museum itself.
However, the complex boasts 14 restored and furnished buildings spread across 18 acres of land. Among these buildings are log structures from the 1850s, including a country school and post office. Additionally, you can find the 1871 Winterset Railroad Depot, Field Mercantile, Martin Brother's Gas Station, and an 1881 Zion Church on the property. There's also a second schoolhouse that dates back to between 1871-1939 and looks as if it was abandoned by students for the day.
The highlight of the complex is undoubtedly the Bevington-Kaser House from 1856. This magnificent mansion is fully furnished with Victorian period artifacts and captivated most of my attention during my visit. The tour guide was incredibly patient with me and my desire to photograph everything.
The John Wayne Birthplace & Museum is located at 205 S. John Wayne Drive, Winterset. What can I say about this, IT'S JOHN WAYNE! This is a must for any John Wayne fan. The museum is loaded with his movie memorabilia and the house he was born in is just darling. Be sure to pose with the full-size John Wayne bronze statue in front of the museum.
The Roseman Covered Bridge, also known as Oak Grover Bridge, holds a special place in the hearts of many. Not only is it the most well-known bridge in the area, but it also played a significant role in both a movie and a book. This was the very bridge that Robert Kincaid sought when he stopped at Francesca Johnson's home for directions. It was here that she left him a note inviting him to dinner.
Interestingly enough, there are rumors circulating about Roseman being haunted. Legend has it that back in 1892, two sheriff's posses trapped an escaped convict inside the bridge. To everyone's astonishment, the man supposedly rose up through the roof of the bridge, let out a chilling cry, and vanished into thin air. Despite extensive searches, he was never found. The incident left people questioning whether someone capable of such an extraordinary act could truly be guilty.
The Holliwell Bridge, constructed in 1880, holds the title for being the longest covered bridge in Madison County. Standing at a length of 122 feet, it also claims the distinction of being the county's longest standing timber bridge. In The Bridges of Madison County film, Cedar Bridge was substituted with the iconic Holliwell Bridge due to its pivotal role in the storyline. Consequently, this bridge has become a highly sought-after tourist destination.
Imes Covered Bridge built in 1870, is the oldest of all the Bridges of Madison County. It has been moved twice and is now in St Charles.
I made notes on a few other locations but didn't have time to visit...
Francesca’s House - 3271 130th Street, Cumming - this charming farmhouse was used as the home of Richard & Francesca Johnson in the movie The Bridges of Madison County. While much of it was destroyed by arson in 2003, you can still view the house from the road.
Covered Bridges Winery - 2207 170th Trail, Winterset
Winterset Cidery - 1638 Hwy 169, Winterset
Visit my Iowa Collection to see more images of the covered bridges and my "Bridges of Madison County" weekend as well as other beautiful locations in Iowa.
About the Photographer
See an image you like? Susan's work is available for purchase in her Gallery. All images in the her collection are available as wall art, fine art prints, on home decor, gift items and apparel.
I am the 8th photographer in 4 generations of my family. Back in 2006, my husband accepted a job traveling, and I jumped at the chance to go with him.
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