Most people have heard of the 1995 movie, The Bridges of Madison County, starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. Some of you may know the movie was filmed here in Iowa. Less than a one hour drive south west of Des Moines. We live in the Des Moines area and we were having another dreary January day, so off to the bridges we went! It had been snowing on and off all week so we were hoping the snow would make for some good pictures and a bit of adventure.
The Covered Bridges of Madison County, Iowa
Madison County, Iowa originally had 19 covered bridges. The bridges generally were given the named after the family who lived closest to the bridge. Notably, 6 are now remaining, with this in mind, our plan was to see them all! Popular in the 19th century, the purpose of covered bridges was to expand the life of the bridge. By covering the bridge with a roof, it saved weather damage on the trusses and the decking of the bridge. As a result, this prevented rot and damage.
Madison County Bridges are mostly located around the county seat of Winterset. I can’t count the number of times I have driven past Winterset on the Interstate and did not go and explore the bridges. The area around Winterset is really quite pretty. Very hilly with trees and streams adding to the landscape. Incidentally, Winterset is the birthplace of John Wayne!!
The first of the bridges we came across in Madison County was the Imes Bridge. Located just east of town of St. Charles, Iowa. Built in 1879, this bridge is the oldest of the remaining ones. This is the easiest bridge to visit and locate. When you first look at the bridge from the side, it looks like it is about to fall over, but when you look at it head on, you can see it is solid and standing upright.
Next we drove to the Holliwell Bridge. Built in 1880, and is the longest covered bridge in Iowa. This bridge is seen in the movie The Bridges of Madison County. This bridge is about 2 miles south east of the town of Winterset and while at its original location it is not in use and bypassed by the road.
Built in 1870, this bridge is located in the town of Winterset at the city park and not in use. This bridge also looks crooked from the side but is standing up straight when you look from the front.
The Roseman Bridge is 7.5 miles south west of Winterset, and built in 1883. This bridge still stands at its original location. Rumor is that this is a haunted bridge. The story goes that a couple of sherifs were chasing a man. The man went into in the bridge and bystanders heard an awful scream. The man never came out of the bridge, nor was he in the bridge. He just disappeared and now haunts the bridge.
I loved the location of this bridge in a hilly area surrounded by trees and it was a pretty drive. We really enjoyed trekking around in the snow here. It is no longer in use as a bypass road keeps traffic off of it. Featured in both the novel and film of The Bridges of Madison County, it is a beautiful bridge.
Built in 1884 this bridge is also at its original location and is 4 miles north west of the town of Winterset. Like the rest of the bridges it is no longer in use. Hogback Bridge is not named after a family, instead, the name comes from the ridge above it. It is also a very pretty drive and location.
In 2003, people saw smoke coming from this bridge. The smoke originated from a fire and thankfully put out with minimal damage. Thought to be set by arsonists, but no arrests were made.
The Cedar Bridge is one of the bridges in the novel and movie, The Bridges of Madison County. Located 3 miles northeast of Winterset and in Cedar Bridge Park. Above all, this is the only bridge you can drive across. Originally built in 1883. In 2002, the Cedar Bridge was destroyed by fire set my arsonists and rebuilt in 2004. Furthermore, in 2007, the Cedar Bridge was again destroyed by arsonists and again rebuilt. Due to the fires, all the bridges now have automatic heat sensitive extinguishers in them.
McBride Bridge Ruins
The McBride Bridge is located 7 miles Northeast of Winterset. Built in 1871 and still in use until it was burned by an arsonist in 1983. Only a bit of the foundation remains. All in all, this was by far the hardest bridge to find as there are no signs and you have to follow dirt roads. My husband humored me and we went looking for it. Of course I think he was enjoying the back roads and 4 wheel driving through the snow more than he was actually looking for bridge ruins. This bridge does not show up on Google Maps. I felt like I had some pretty good map skills when we actually found the ruins!! Click here to follow the map I found online.
Here are my directions on finding the ruins. Take hwy 169 north from Winterset then turn east on G4R (Cummings Road). After a few miles the road turns north, keep following and the road will turn east. Just after turning east look for McBride Road and turn north on it. Follow McBride road. After driving over a small stream there will be a right turn and shortly after a left. Don’t turn either way even though it looks like you should. Instead go straightish and slightly downhill (remember these are country roads). McBride Bridge ruins are on the left side of the road before the concrete bridge. You have to look closely as the ruins are down in a gully. If it wasn’t winter, I do not think we would have been able to see the ruins through trees and grass in bloom.
John Wayne Birthplace and Museum
In addition, Winterset is also where John Wayne was born. The museum and home appeared closed but I did snap a couple of pictures.
If you are looking for a day trip while in Iowa, think about exploring the covered bridges of Madison County Iowa. Just a short hour from Des Moines and not too far off the interstate, it is easy to find. I will have to return in the summer or fall to see how different the bridges look without the snow and maybe check out John Wayne’s house as well!