On the road

... from Melrose to Montana and back to Melrose

by Shirley Rabb

Dear friends and family,

After leaving Boy’s and Girls Town we drove through Council Bluffs, Iowa, and headed towards Winterset. Winterset is in Madison County where the “Bridges of Madison County” was filmed. We arrived in the afternoon, and went looking for information that would lead us to the famous bridges. After searching and asking directions we were able to get to the visitors center where we got our maps and literature about the bridges and other local attractions.

One of the attractions is the Winterset City Park, 76 acres of serene wooded countryside. We drove around the park and through a narrow dirt road that led to the Clark Tower. This tower is a three-story limestone structure built on a bluff with a magnificent view of the river valley below. We climbed to the top and enjoyed the view along with about a dozen high school students that were there on a day outing.

Wanting to find a local restaurant we asked directions from a few men that were biking in the area. Not only were they helpful and cute but they followed us to the square to make sure that these three old ladies from out of town could find the place. We had a great inexpensive meal at the Northside Café. The café was in the movie,”The Bridges of Madison County” and it is in the Madison County Square. In the center of the square is the Madison County Courthouse, which was constructed in 1876. The courthouse and dome rise 122 feet above Winterset square and can be seen for miles. It was closed for the day, but one of the interesting features of the building is the four clocks at the center of the dome, which were all at perfect time.

Driving around the town we spotted the birthplace of John Wayne, and Louise decided to take the house tour. Donna walked the dog and I went back to the maps to find the best routes for tomorrow's bridge excursion.

John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison on May 26th 1907. The four room home has been restored to reflect its appearance in the year of the Duke’s birth. Louise enjoyed the house tour at $2.25, senior rate, and we all toured the small adjoining gift shop.

Up in the morning, continental breakfast downed we were on are way to see the romantic “Bridges of Madison County”. Our first stop was at the Roseman covered bridge. This is the bridge featured in the movie and has been standing since 1883. It was renovated in 1992 at a cost of $152,515. The bridge is set in a wooded area, which is lovely and peaceful. We crossed over a small bridge and up a few stairs to the gift shop which plays the movie on video all day. The building is old and quaint and yes, we did buy a few things. Pictures taken we moved on towards five other bridges pictured in our brochure.

Five of the original 19 covered bridges remain all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Madison County Covered Bridges, constructed in the days of horse and wagon, would later accommodate automobiles, school busses and farm machinery. Problems resulted in constant rural pressure to replace the bridges but Federal and State Bridge programs were militant against the continuation of the bridges at their original locations. Madison County created a tourist industry around the bridges guaranteeing their continued existence, although not in their natural settings.

We moved on to the Imes bridge which is the oldest bridge having been built in 1870. This bridge has been moved twice, once in 1887 and again in 1977. This is one of the two bridges with a peaked roof. Near the Imes bridge is the Welcome Center, located in the Old Presbyterian Church. We had a nice visit with the two ladies that were manning the post at the center. The present church replaced the original structure that was built in 1855 on the same site. Margaret Cook bought the church at public auction in 1979; she was the daughter of a minister and did not want to see it torn down. The building was used for storage for 18 years and the upstairs portion of the old church is filled with crafts and antiques from local vendors today. One of the women remarked about the longevity of the bridges in the area, but after the book and movie how, “all of a sudden they became famous”. It is always good to talk to the “locals” when we get the chance.

Our next stop was the Holliwell Bridge, built in 1880. This is the longest of the bridges measuring 122 feet. This bridge also appeared in the famous film. It was renovated in 1995 at the cost of $225.000.

Although the bridges are not at their original sites spanning brooks and creeks with rushing water they are in lovely country settings. As we left the area of the Holliwell Bridge we drove back along a dirt road to get a show of beautiful llamas in a farmyard. The animals were back in the field but as we got out of the car hoping to get pictures they came to the fence and posed for close-ups. Our dog was a little befuddled because they were not the usual large animals she has seen before. She sat quietly in the car while we snapped our photos and then we moved on.

From the Holliwell we drove to the Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bride built in 1871. This bridge is 79 feet long and is set in Winterset City Park. Originally sitting in Bevinton it was moved to its present location in 1970 and renovated in 1997. This is the second bridge with a peaked roof.

Our next stop was Cedar Covered Bridge completed in 1883 over Cedar Creek on what is now U.S.Highway 169. The bridge was moved to its present location in 1921. It was destroyed by arson on September 3, 2002 and a new replica was dedicated on October 9, 2004.

The last of the bridges we visited was the Hogback Covered Bridge which is on its original location in a lovely valley just northwest of Winterset. Built in 1884 by Benton Jones, it measures 97 feet. This bridge was completely renovated in 1992 at a cost of $118,810.

Robert Waller’s book, “The Bridges of Madison County” was published in 1992. From 1992 to 1997 the county spent $563,670.00 to renovate the existing bridges and build a replica of the Cedar Bridge. This money, well spent brought the movie crew and the tourist to their little town.

We spent our second evening in Winterset, downloaded our pictures to the laptop and looked forward to tomorrow on the road.

For those of you that did see the movie I hope this e-mail and the pictures will bring it back to you. If you have not seen the movie or read the book try to find either one. It is a beautiful story.

Stay well and take care of each other.

Shirley, Donna, Louise and Casa

To read previous E-mails click here

January 5, 2007

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