Scenic USA - Iowa
Covered Bridges of Madison County
|Photos by Terri and Ben Prepelka
Spread out over Iowa's long flowing hills, Madison County's towns of Winterset, Earlham, Bevington, Patterson, Macksburg, St. Charles, East Peru and Truro seem ideally placed among picturesque farmland and clusters of hardwood forests. Known for its historic covered bridges, popularized by Robert James Waller's novel and feature film Bridges of Madison County, Winterset is also the birthplace of John Wayne.
Iowa's Madison County, lying at the crossroads of I-35 and I-80 and minutes from Des Moines, extends an invitation for all to visit and enjoy their friendly communities. Putting on an entire calendarís worth of great community events, one of the most celebrated gatherings is the Madison County Covered Bridge Festival. A time-honored tradition since 1970, county residents look forward to the brilliant hues of autumn, and a time to share their scenic countryside and historic covered bridges. Held the second weekend in October, the Covered Bridge Festival usually coincides with the arrival of Iowa's colorful fall foliage. Thousands of visitors arrive in time to join the festivities, so it's good idea to plan ahead for overnight lodging.
Sprinkled throughout the county's picturesque rolling hills, six of the original 19 historic covered bridges remain from the late 19th century. The town of Winterset is a good starting point to find covered bridge directions and information. Spread out over a 20 mile swath from I-35 to P-83, the majority of bridges are found right around the town of Winterset.
The Cutler-Donahue Covered Bridge greets visitors at Winterset City Park. The 79 foot span originally crossed Bevington's North River, nearly 20 miles from its present location in the park. The 76 acre park not only features the the bridge and usual park amenities, but also offers a wooded natural area. A winding loop road leads up through the woodlands to the three story Clark Tower. Raised in 1926 as a memorial to the county's first settlers, the tower offers a wonderful view of Middle River Valley. Just to the east of the 1876 Madison County Courthouse, bridge hunters will find the county's longest bridge. Refurbished at a cost of 225,000 dollars in 1995, the Holliwell Bridge was featured in the movie, Bridges of Madison County. Originally built in 1880 to span Middle River, the bridge measures 122 feet.
The 1884 Hogback Bridge (4.5 miles from Winterset to North River) and the 1883 Cedar Bridge (1.8 miles from Winterset to Cedar Creek) are found just north of Winterset. To the east, about halfway between I-35 and the town of St Charles, a tour map (see below for link) spots the oldest of Madison County's bridges. Just off G50 is the Imes Bridge, built in 1870. Because of its condition, the bridge was bypassed and remains off limits to traffic. Out of town to the west is the last of the covered bridges. Once again the winding Middle River is crossed by a covered bridge. Built in 1883 and refurbished in 1992, the 107 foot Roseman Bridge may bring back more movie memories.
Stick around through Sunday to enjoy the Madison County Fall Festival's annual parade. Throughout the weekend, music, square dancers, barbershop quartets, spelling bees, and plenty of handmade arts, crafts, furniture and antique shopping will keep you busy. For classic car buffs, the Antique and Classic Auto Show, hosted by the Central Iowa Auto Club, draws hundreds of beautifully restored cars and trucks. After the car show's awards ceremony on Sunday, the Antique Vehicle Parade begins at 2 PM. Pull up a chair and get a great view of the parade of antique tractors, floats, horses, and lively bands.
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