the bridges of madison county

The Holliwell Bridge built in 1880 by Benton Jones.

The interior of the Holliwell Bridge.

The Imes Bridge built in 1870 by Eli Cox.

A shaft of sunlight illuminates some graffiti inside the Imes Bridge.

The Cedar Bridge built in 1883 by Benton Jones.

Road signs direct visitors to the covered bridges throughout Madison County, Iowa.

Recently, I traveled to Iowa for the 2011 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships. I had the night off before the first full day of competition so I drove to Winterset, Iowa, about 40 miles south of Des Moines, to visit the famed Bridges of Madison County.

Ironically, I have never read the 1992 best-selling book, The Bridges of Madison County, by Robert James Waller, nor have I seen the 1995 movie starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. The novel is the story of a lonely, married woman, who lives in Madison County during the 1960’s. She has an affair with a National Geographic photographer who is taking photos of the covered bridges.

Madison County originally had 19 covered bridges, but only six remain today. I visited three of the them: the Holliwell Bridge, the Imes Bridge, and the Cedar Bridge.

The Holliwell Bridge was built in 1880 by Benton Jones and is the longest covered bridge, measuring 122 feet. It remains in its original site over the Middle River southeast of Winterset. It is the bridge featured in The Bridges of Madison County movie.

The Imes Bridge is the oldest of the remaining bridges. It was built in 1870 by Eli Cox and measures 81 feet in length. It was originally located over the Middle River west of Patterson.

The Cedar Bridge was built in 1883 by Benton Jones. It measures 76 feet long and is still open to traffic. Cedar Bridge is featured on the cover of Robert James Waller’s novel, The Bridges of Madison County. In 1993, Oprah Winfrey interviewed Waller on the steps of Cedar Bridge.

The bridges are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the three other bridges: the Roseman Bridge, the Cutler-Donahoe Bridge, and the Hogback Bridge.

-scott weaver

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