Winterset, Iowa. Home of the Bridges of Madison County. You know, the movie with Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep.
The movie, based on the book “The Bridges of Madison County,” was about a professor who develops a short-lived affair with a local farm wife.
The movie was filmed in the area.
Did you know John Wayne was from Winterset? Well, not exactly John Wayne. Marion Morrison, who later became John Wayne, was born and raised in Winterset.
George Washington Carver called Winterset home. He is the famous professor who is credited with creating hundreds of uses from peanuts.
Despite the famous people with Winterset ties, the area remains best known for its six covered bridges.
We happened to visit during the annual Madison County Covered Bridges Festival. It’s hosted on the second weekend of October.
A replica pick-up truck driven by Eastwood’s character in the movie sat outside the visitor’s center. Two chairs with the stars’ names on them sat near the truck.
We took in the downtown festivities, including old-time music on the porch front of the Madison County courthouse. Vendors selling all kinds of goods encircle the block around the courthouse. You can get wine, candy, food, clothes, and jewelry. Kids can even play in a corn box. Yes, I said corn box. It’s like a sand box, only made from corn kernels.
We stopped in an antique store to browse. It had all sorts of items for sell at reasonable prices. Need a Red Ryder bee bee gun? You can buy one there. Just be careful not to shoot your eye out.
There were hundreds of movies on VHS cassettes. I don’t think we know anyone who has a VCR any more. But, if you do have one and need some movies, check out the antique store across the street from the courthouse.
Dishes, clothes, magazines of all sorts (and I do mean all sorts for you Hugh Hefner types) from years past sit on book shelves.
I found a nice looking camera. I bought it for $20. It was a Tower camera, which was sold at sears in the 1950s and 1960s. It looked cool. I’ll figure out a place to display it at home or work eventually.
The Madison County Courthouse was built in the 1870s. It’s very stoic looking. I imagine the grounds are cool to walk around when the vendor tents and other attractions are gone.
We even checked out a couple of young alpacas on the courthouse grounds.
Our main purpose of the trip was to see the covered bridges and take in some of the early fall colors (Lisa is a “leafer”).
We figured out a game plan to make effective use of our time in checking out the bridges.
We drove about eight miles out of town to see the Roseman Bridge. It sits over the Middle River. Originally built in 1883, the bridge was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. It was renovated in 1992.
We were able to walk down to the shore of the river. A gift shop sits nearby. Based on the cars parked in the area, the bridge and gift shop were popular that day.
After spending more than 30 minutes at the bridge, we realized we were a tad hungry. We stopped at Rudy’s in town. I recommend this place if ever in Winterset. The food was delicious. Service was friendly.
The price for meals was ridiculous. A 4-piece chicken dinner with two sides for $8? Really? Try getting that in Omaha or other larger cities. Delicious and filling.
After rolling ourselves out of Rudy’s, we headed to the city park to find the Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge. The bridge was moved to the city park years ago. It originally sat over the Beaver River. It’s about 80 feet long. The bridge was built in 1880 and renovated in 1997.
While in the park, we decided to check out a couple more attractions. We stopped at a rock bridge. It was in a pretty setting, with trees neighboring it, displaying their fall colors.
Across the way was a hedge maze. In the middle sat a British sun dial. The maze was popular kids and adults, alike.
A short drive into the park was Clark Tower. It’s an old castle-looking turret. You can climb to the top and get a nice view of the Iowa countryside. A couple of farm houses sit in the middle of a garden of trees. Once in full fall color, the spot has to be one of the most beautiful in the Midwest.
After doing some walking and looking, it was time to hit the road again on our trek of the covered bridges.
Our third bridge stop was the Holliwell Bridge, a few miles southeast of town. I looked around and told Lisa I didn’t see any of the Charmed Ones (a callout to fans of the old TV series “Charmed” with Alyssa Milano, Rose McGowan and Holly Marie Combs, thought they were Halliwells).
The Holliwell Bridge sits over the Middle River in its original spot. It was built in 1880. It’s the longest of the covered bridges at 122 feet. It was last renovated in 1995.
You could actually walk to a nice sand bar area on the river bed. That allowed for some great viewing down river – a pretty course with trees lining the riverbanks.
Cedar Bridge was the next stop for us. The bridge is a few miles north of town. The original bridge was built in 1883 and renovated in 1998. Sadly, the 76-foot long bridge was destroyed by arson in 2002. A replica was built in its place, using the original plans, authentic equipment and construction methods. The new bridge was dedicated in 2004.
FYI: Each bridge is monitored by electronic surveillance.
The last bridge we visited was Hogback. The 97-foot long bridge is about 7 miles northwest of town. The bridge was built in 1884.
We did not make it to the last covered bridge – Imes. We wanted to spend some more time in town, so we sacrificed seeing the bridge.
Back in town, we walked by the George Washington Carver Memorial Park. It is a very small park near downtown. It is near the spot where he lived in Winterset. Now, the fire department building sits there.
George Washington Carver moved to Winterset in 1888. He had been rejected from Iowa State University in Ames because he was African-American. He was later encouraged to attend college at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. He eventually was accepted into ISU.
In his career as a scientist and botanist, Carver worked with peanuts, cotton and sweet potatoes. He is considered an inventor of hundreds of products based on these items, including dyes, wood fillers, pastes, adhesives and oils.
As I mentioned earlier, Winterset was the hometown to the late actor John Wayne. Born Marion Morrison, the Iowan became John Wayne. Wayne was considered by many as the consummate Hollywood cowboy star.
He starred in westerns, such as “Fort Apache,” “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” “The Sons of Katie Elder,” “How the West was Won,” “True Grit” and “The Cowboys.”
Wayne also made other movies, such as “The Quiet Man,” and “The Green Berets.”
Winterset is full of so many interesting attractions.
People suggested we check out the Historical museum complex about half a mile from downtown.
It’s set up as an old town. It has a lawyer’s office, general store, gas station, farm equipment shop, church and school.
An old train depot serves as a railroad museum.
We had the opportunity to watch a Civil War re-enactment. The premise was that some confederate sympathizers accused a local woman of stealing their money. The Union soldiers defended the women. A firefight erupted, with gun shots as well as cannon fire.
The Civil War re-enactment capped our visit to Winterset.
As we left, Lisa and I agreed that we could make a full weekend of a future visit. The town’s bridge’s festival continued the next day with more activities, including a parade.
Our original trip was to see the covered bridges of Madison County, but with a little research and luck, we discovered so much more to do in Winterset.
It was a great day trip.