Once we moved to Iowa one of the first things I wanted to see was the bridges made famous in the movie "Bridges of Madison County" staring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. Still one of my all-time favorite romance stories, I still cry as he drives away in the rain as she contemplates leaving her husband to join photographer Robert Kinkaid.
Madison County is an easy drive from Des Moines, approximately 30 minutes to the southwest of the capital city. As you enter the community known for their covered bridges, there is a small information area in the town of St. Charles with a bridge that has been relocated to a small ravine. This is the Imes Covered Bridge, the oldest of the six remaining bridges in the area. Built in 1870, it is 81 feet in length.
The two bridges made famous by the movie are the Roseman and Holliwell Covered Bridges. The Roseman was built in 1883 and is 107 feet across a small creek, in its original location. It is also known as the Ghost Bridge from folklore stories telling of the two sheriffs and their posses who were chasing an escaped prisoner. It is told that the prisoner let out a screechy yell and then jumped up through the roof of the bridge. The body was never found and was determined to be proof of the man’s innocence. This is also the bridge where Clint Eastwood’s character first sought directions to from Francesca (Meryl Streep) and where she later left him the invitation for dinner that would forever change their lives.
The Holliwell Covered Bridge is the longest of the covered bridges of Madison County and spans across the Middle River, also in its original location. It is 122 feet long and was built in 1880. This bridge was also in the movie, the locale where the main characters enjoyed an afternoon of photography and nature.
During our tour of the Bridges of Madison County, we also paid a visit to Hogback Covered Bridge which can be found in the valley north of Winterset. Built by the same person as the Roseman and Holliwell, Benton Jones, this bridge is also in its original location over the Middle River, and it is 97 feet in length.
In Winterset’s community park, the Cutler-Donahue Covered Bridge has been relocated from its original location in Bevington over the North River. This bridge is one of the two remaining that features a sloped roof. (The other is the Imes Covered Bridge.)
All of the covered bridges found here have been restored to their original state, with the Cedar Covered Bridge completely rebuilt after arsons destroyed the original in 2002. At the time it was rebuilt, it was decided to move it to a more accessible area spanning the Cedar Creek. The replica was rebuilt using the original plans and materials consistent with the period the original was built (in 1883) and was rededicated just two years later in October 2004. This was also the last covered bridge to accommodate vehicle traffic.
It was very interesting to get out and to walk through the various bridges. There was quite a bit of graffiti which was disappointing to see. Many had birds nesting up in the rafters inside the bridge support beams. One was rather nasty with bird poops everywhere! But don’t let that keep you from getting out and looking at all of the covered bridges. They are truly an engineering marvel and great tribute to the people of the late 19th century.
Given that there were originally 19 covered bridges built in Iowa, it is a special treasure to have these six still around and accessible to the public for viewing in a relatively close area of Madison County. If you are in Des Moines for business, or traveling North/South on I35, I would encourage you to make time to spend a couple of hours exploring these six covered bridges that represent a period in American history and engineering advancement.
Visitors can take part in the Madison County Covered Bridge Festival, in October in the community of Winterset. Not only can festival goers enjoy a guided tour of the bridges, they can also enjoy craft artisans of rural Iowa including weaving, spinning, and wood carving. Music and dancing are also part of the festival weekend, plus plenty of food and drink. The 2007 festival will be held on October 13 and 14. More information may be obtained at their website: www.madisoncounty.com/bridge_fest.html .