Most Read Posts

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bridges and the Duke

1992 Robert James Waller brought fame and a new interest to Madison County, Iowa with his novel, "The Bridges of Madison County."  I followed the masses to Madison County in June of 2010 to see the bridges and I found there was more than bridges.

Actually, I was attending a National Junior Forensic League competition in which my 13 year old son was participating.  Instead of riding the school bus with him and several other adolescents, I invited a friend, Don, to take a scenic route to Des Moines, Iowa.  We took some fun roads, stopped at some out of the way places, tried some local eateries, and did some camping on our way to Des Moines and on the way home.

We had some extra time so we decided to visit the famous Madison County including the town of Winterset, county seat and birthplace of John Wayne - The Duke!  We knew we would need our nourishment so we ate a great breakfast at The Machine Shed in Urbandale near our hotel. (I will post later about the awesome breakfast and renowned cinnamon roll.) After breakfast we were ready to do some riding and take a lot of pictures.

I had an idea about the location of at least one of the bridges so we headed south on I35 taking the exit for CR G14 (Cumming Road) and riding west.  We saw a sign for "Cedar Bridge" so we turned on the white rock road, Cedar Bridge Trail.  I had been told that many of the bridges were on gravel/rock roads.

After about a mile we saw the covered red Cedar Bridge.  We turned on the road to the bridge so we could ride across it.  The road splits so that one can ride over the bridge or around it.  The bridge was destroyed by arson and the current bridge was built with the original plans using authentic materials and methods.  It is pretty and is located in a quiet area over a small river.
Cedar Bridge is the only covered bridge which allows traffic.
Inside the Cedar Bridge
What really struck me was the construction of the bridges.  It was impressive to consider all of the lumber and the time that was taken to build the bridges at that time in history.  One noticeable disappointment on all of the bridges was the graffiti.  I just don't understand why Bubba from Smithville thinks the world needs to know that he loves Betty Jo.  

We continued south to Winterset where we visited the Chamber of Commerce across from the impressive county courthouse and picked up a map of the bridges and other useful information about the attractions of Winterset and the county.  The people at the chamber were very helpful and friendly.
Madison County Courthouse - built in 1876
After studying the map and info, we decided to visit the Winterset City Park which is home of Clark Tower, a memorial to one of the county's first pioneer families.  At 25 feet it gives a great view of the Middle River Valley.  The road to get to the tower leaves the paved roads of the park for about 1.5 miles and runs through a lush forest.  The road is not in the greatest shape, but it is ridable. 
Clark Tower erected 1926
The loop to Clark Tower brought us back to the city park where we saw our second Madison County bridge, the Cutler-Donahue Bridge.  Vehicles are not allowed on this bridge.  The Cutler-Donahue Bridge has a pitched roof instead of a flat roof like the Cedar Bridge.
Cutler-Donahue Bridge in Winterset City Park
All of the bridges have graffiti.  What a shame.
We left the park and rode six blocks to The Duke's birthplace.  The quaint little house sits on the corner of 2nd Street and East Washington.  Due to time constraints we visited the grounds, Duke's statue, and the gift shop.  We greatly enjoyed looking at the memorabilia and gifts of the great American icon.  We need more Americans like the Duke.  Just think if the Duke was in the White House!  Things would be different.
Duke's statue marks the spot that will be the foyer of the planned 
John Wayne Museum near the house of his birthplace. 
(House in the background is NOT his birthplace)
John Wayne's birthplace
We headed west on SR 92 to Roseman Bridge Trail.  Turning south on the gravel road, we rode about 3.5 miles to Roseman Bridge.  This 107 foot bridge is still in the original location where it was built in 1883 (it was renovated in 1992).  The Middle River was flowing quickly from the recent rains.
  Roseman Bridge sits in its original location over Middle River.
Vehicles are NOT allowed on the Roseman Bridge
Since I was leading, Don was eating plenty of dust as we continued to the next bridge.  All along we were passing rolling farm land.  The farm houses reminded me of a simpler time and kind of made me envious.  I knew for sure I was not missing the Dallas traffic.

We continued west on Roseman Bridge Road since it was closer to a paved road than going back the way we came.  We hit Deer Run Ave.(paved!) and headed north back to SR 92 and then east back towards Winterset.  We stayed on SR 92 as it looped on the northwest side of town.  Hogback Bridge Ave. intersects SR 92 and runs north away from Winterset.  We followed Hogback Bridge Ave. for three miles until we came to Hogback Bridge sitting over North River.  
Hogback Bridge sits where it was originally built.
North River running under Hogback Bridge
Our map also showed that we where near the North River Schoolhouse, a one room school built in 1874.  Don is a HS teacher, and I am an assistant principal - seemed like we should visit the schoolhouse.  We continued north on Hogback Bridge Ave. for about a mile then turned east on North River School Street.  Shortly we saw the school on the north side of the road surrounded by rolling hills of some kind of crop. (Horticulture is not my field).  The school had a hand water pump and an outhouse.  Now that made me not long for the days gone by.
North River School is on the National Register of Historical Places.
That sure would be cold in January.
North River School Street intersected US 169, we turned south and rode back to Winterset for an afternoon shake at  Frostee's.  Frostee's is a small ice cream shop with a couple of benches and picnic tables outside.  There is no inside area for customers.  We ordered our shakes and drinks at the window and enjoyed the old fashion vanilla shake.  Stop by; you will like it.
Frostee's is a favorite spot for locals and visitors.
There were two more of the six bridges to see.  We rode south on US 169/John Wayne Blvd, turning east on Court Ave, just south of the court house.  We followed Court Ave until it ended at Norwood Ave.  We turned south and then veered left on unpaved Holliwell Bridge Road.  Two miles later we stopped to see Holliwell Bridge sitting on Middle River in its original location.  At 122 feet Holliwell is the longest surviving covered bridge in the county.  No vehicle traffic is allowed on the bridge.
Holliwell Bridge has the same design as Cedar Bridge, Roseman Bridge, and Hogback Bridge.
Looking out from Holliwell Bridge
Holliwell Bridge Road took us south to CR G50 where we turned east and headed to St. Charles and Imes Bridge.  Covered Bridge Park sits on the eastern edge of St. Charles and is where the Imes Bridge is located.  Built in 1870 Imes Bridge is the oldest surviving bridge.  The bridge has been moved twice and now sits over a natural ravine where pedestrians use it.
Imes Bridge is 81 feet and is the oldest surviving covered bridge in the county.
4 of the 6 bridges are accessible by gravel roads.  Time to find a car wash.
I would recommend allotting a full day for visiting the county and all it has to offer.  We got a late start and had to get back mid-afternoon so we did not linger at the bridges and had to skip other attractions.

I found Iowa pretty and interesting.  The miles of rolling farm land points to a simpler but hard life. If you get the chance to visit this area of America's heartland, I suggest taking the time to ride the bridges and visit Winterset.


  1. Great Pics. great to see them. I have heard about them before and seen the movie. Good to see.

  2. Nice pictures, I love covered bridges too, they can survive a lot of things but it's a shame they can not survive graffiti :-(

  3. Great pics and report. I loved seeing the bridges. We have covered bridges here, but they are a different style. I like finding old buildings and historic locations. We hunted up a couple this weekend (by car, so no blog report). I'm a little envious of your blue skies as well! :)