As the Midwest was settled, farmers needed a way to get their products to
market, which generally meant pulling horse drawn wagons to the nearest
railroad station. To respond to this need, counties began to improve
rural roads and install bridges. These bridges were most often built using
timber. It was quickly realized that timber bridges would rapidly
deteriorate if they were left exposed to the elements, and it would be
much cheaper to cover the bridges rather than repair damaged timbers.
Madison County, Iowa, located southwest of Des Moines, once had 19 covered
bridges. These covered bridges started to become obstacles when larger and
heavier trucks became common, and their coverings prevented large farm
implements from using these bridges. Farmers began to demand that heavier
open bridges be built.
By 1933, the population of covered bridges had dropped to 10, resulting in
the first talk of saving the remaining structures. But over the next 15
years, three more covered bridges were lost. At that time, the Madison County
Board of Supervisors approved funding to preserve the seven covered bridges
that were still standing. Many were bypassed, while others were moved to
new locations. The result is an outstanding collection of structures, some
that date back over 100 years. The bridges are celebrated every year since
1970 by an annual bridge festival held the second full weekend of October.
The bridges became nationally known after the motion picture ‘The
Bridges of Madison County’, featuring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep,
was released in 1995, based on the best-selling 1992 novel. The film tells
the story of a local farm wife who has an affair with a man who has traveled
to Iowa to photograph the bridges. Oprah Winfrey liked the book so much that
she named it as her favorite book of the year in 1993, and she traveled to
Iowa to broadcast her afternoon show from the Cedar Bridge.
Since the bridges were preserved, they have faced a series of arson fires.
The McBride Bridge was destroyed by a fire set by a jilted lover in 1983. The
Cedar Bridge was destroyed in 2002, and both the Hogback and Roseman bridges
have been damaged in arson attempts. As a result, the structures are
monitored 24 hours per day with video cameras and alarm systems.