The Hunt for the Truth about Historic Bridges 1: The Bridges of Madison County, Iowa

Roseman Bridge. This and the following photos were taken by the author and his wife Birgit while touring Madison County in December 2007

This is the first of many series to come in the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles as we focus on finding the truth behind the historic bridges that we know about but have some questions to answer and missing gaps to fill. Some of them are in connection with the book project the author is doing on Iowa’s historic truss bridges (please click here for more details), but others are in connection with inquiries made by other readers for their own purpose. If you have an inquiry about a historic bridge that you would like to see solved, please contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com and it will be posted.

This is the first of many to come.

When the words covered bridges and Iowa come to mind, the first place a person would mention is Madison County. Located southwest of the capital of Des Moines and its county seat being Winterset, Madison County is one of the most attractive places to go when visiting Iowa. It is the birthplace of western actor John Wayne. It also was the scene of the romantic film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep based on the book written by Robert James Waller bearing the same name as the theme of this article, winning a rainbow’s worth of awards both as a film as well as the literary work. (Note: The book was written in 1992).

Yet the county also has a wide array of covered bridges, still after all these years. Counting the Roseman Bridge, six covered bridges, all built between 1870 and 1884, still populate the county, four of which were built by local contractor, Benton Jones. Another covered bridge, the McBridge covered bridge, built in 1871, was destroyed by arson in 1983 and was subsequentially replaced afterwards with a concrete slab bridge.  All of the bridges, including the McBride remains have been marked with signs and placed on tour guides that one can pick up at the tourist information office in Winterset. They include the following bridges:

Cutler-Donahoe Bridge at the park on the south end of Winterset
Built in 1871; relocated to its present site in 1970

 

Cedar Bridge
Built in 1883; destroyed by arson in 2002; rebuilt in 2004 and open to traffic

Hogback Bridge
Built in 1884; bypassed and rehabilitated in 1992

Holliwell Bridge
Built in 1880

Imes Bridge at local park in St. Charles
Built in 1870; located twice (1887 and to its final destination in 1970)

And lastly, the photo at the beginning of the article is the Roseman Bridge, built in 1883.

The Hunt for the Truth is: These were not the only bridges of its kind that were built in Madison County. While at a café in Winterset, a waitress provided my wife and me with a placemat with a map of all the historic bridges that had existed before they were replaced by steel truss bridges and later concrete bridges. The number is more than three times the number of bridges that exist in the county. Therefore, the questions for the forum are the following:

1. How many covered bridges were built in Madison County and

2. Where were these bridges located and what were the local names for each of them?

Anyone willing to share some information are asked to contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles. The information will be useful not only to solve the case, but also for the book on Iowa’s truss bridges, under the section of wooden truss and covered bridges. However, many people who have interest and background information on historic bridges, Iowa history and Madison County would also like to know how many covered bridges were built and how they were named. Furthermore, the author would like to know if there were other contractors that built covered bridges in Madison County or if Benton Jones was the lone contractor. Any help would be much appreciated.

To end the first hunting expedition, the author would like to share a note about the McBride Bridge. The bridge was destroyed by an arsonist who was upset about his wife leaving him. He and his wife met and carved their names at the bridge and the break-up was too much for him. He turned himself in, was convicted for arson and was sentenced to community service, consisting of working with other people in restoring historic bridges, a punishment that turned into a treat for him, as his love for historic bridges grew, and he worked well past the end of his sentencing in preserving historic bridges. What a way to convert him into a pontist and a selfless person. Any help on who this gentleman was would be much appreciated.

 

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One Response to The Hunt for the Truth about Historic Bridges 1: The Bridges of Madison County, Iowa

  1. Clarice Fager says:

    Way back in 1946 I was married to Dr. Frank Fager and off we went to Valley Forge, Pa. where Frank was a Capt. in the Army Dental Corps at Valley Forge Hospital. At that time there were many wonderful young men returning from war needing lots of medial care. We learned to LOVE the Covered bridges in the area and subsequently Frank painted a covered bridge which still hangs in my home in Worthington. Nice Memory. I did not know there were so many covered bridges in Madison County. Great book and great movie. Clarice Fager

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