Madison County’s Abundant Appeal
Community Visit Exceeds Expectations
I’m excited before each community visit/study I do.
I’ve completed dozens of these, mostly undercover, in conjunction with organizations like Convention and Visitor Bureaus (CVB), economic development groups, Chamber of Commerce’s, etc.
Yet, I still get butterflies as I drive into the city limits for the first time. Never fails. Happens each visit.
Before leaving, I research attractions, events, and historical facts and map out and schedule my time. Hard work ensues to put variety into my agendas: Culture, art, history, parks and recreation, lodging, dining, retail and more.
I develop a perspective from online information about what makes the community tick.
Afterall, what a community shares online becomes that community’s brand. The marketing affects perception.
Once there, I test these pre-conceived notions and hypotheses.
Most of the time, I’m pretty spot on.
I’m delighted when a community wildly exceeds my expectations. And, I’m truly disappointed for communities that aren’t living up to their potential. Madison County Iowa exceeds all expectations, including mine.
PLAN a visit. ENJOY all it offers.
Population 5000+-Madison County’s County Seat.
Winterset is approximately
• 37 miles from Des Moines, Iowa
• 125 miles from Omaha, Nebraska
• 180 miles from Kansas City, Kansas
• 270 miles from Sioux Falls, South Dakota
The Bridges of Madison County
I’ve been wanting to visit Madison County, Iowa since watching the 1995 “Bridges of Madison County” movie starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. (Available on Amazon Prime Video.)
What I learned during my 30-hour visit is that Madison County is a whole lot more than covered bridges, though these are spectacular and are worth the trip alone.
Bridge Names (Pick up a map in the Welcome Center)
- Roseman Covered Bridge-featured in movie + most popular bridge; gift shop on site
- Cedar Covered Bridge– on novel cover + arsonist destroyed it in 2017
- Holliwell Covered Bridge-featured in movie + longest of 6 remaining bridges
- Imes Covered Bridge (1870)-oldest and in St. Charles, Iowa
- Hogback Covered Bridge (1884)-spans 97 feet over the North River
- Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge (1870)located in Winterset’s City Park
Madison County is well prepared for the many who visit this area. It’s true. Most come because of the Bridges and John Wayne. Once there, however, visitors discover the depth of offerings and attractions in the County and stay longer or plan a return visit.
I traveled throughout Madison County during my 30 hour stay. I didn’t see everything. Though I saw a lot. It was a beautiful late summer day filled with plentiful sunshine.
I visited each attraction and location below.
Let me know what else to see and do after you visit.
SHARE this with your travel companions to Madison County, Iowa.
9 Reasons Why You Deserve to Visit Madison County, Iowa
1. Chamber & Welcome Center Information
Log on to the Chambers website www.madisoncounty.com for self-guided ½ day and full day itineraries, along with photos, links and other helpful information.
Call the Center. 515.462.1185. A friendly voice and a well-informed person will answer your questions, every time.
Their website is so well done. It should serve as a benchmark for other similar organizations.
The Welcome Center itself is a destination for tourists.
Location:73 Jefferson Street on the Courthouse Square. [Courthouse open during the week. Built in 1876 and is a designated historic district by the National Park Service.]
Pick up maps and brochures. Restrooms and retail items are available. Be sure to place a pin on their map of your hometown.
2. Community Pride
When every person one meets in a new community speaks to you in a manner that shows pride in their community and appreciation for your visit (I don’t identify I’m doing a study/story on the area.), you know you’ve found a place you want to return to or maybe even call home. But it’s more than that. The sense of Madison County community pride shows up in other ways too, like:
• Well maintained streets and roads
• Bountiful flower baskets hanging from street poles
• Interaction of citizens-people greeting 1 another by name + being good neighbors and citizens
• Residences and yards well-kept
• Lack of litter and graffiti
• Well-marked services provided (Fire, police, hospital, schools, pools, recreational fields, etc.)
While some take this list for granted, these are hallmarks of community pride. It shows citizens working and cooperating to make their hometown shine not only for visitors but also for themselves.
3. Ease of Getting Around
Visiting Madison County attractions is done with great ease. Signs are put in all the right places. Some might think this happens everywhere.
I’ve been to those places where finding major attractions is more like a scavenger hunt than a nice drive on a scenic byway.
I’d researched addresses and picked up a map at the Welcome Center but I found the road signs were so abundant that I didn’t need to rely on my GPS or any other tools to get around.
Great signage makes driving on gravel county roads and in unfamiliar places so much more enjoyable. It is a stress-free experience.
For a unique experience, follow the recently designated 82-mile-plus Covered Bridges Scenic Byway featuring the iconic and internationally known covered bridges along with scenic natural areas, historical sites, Winterset’s Courthouse Square and Commercial district, the John Wayne Museum and Birthplace, and many other unique destinations.
4. Appreciation of History & Ancestry
$ The Madison County Historical Complex
Location: 815 South 2nd Avenue Winterset, Iowa is one of the finest museums I’ve visited in the Midwest.
It has 14 buildings on 18 acres on the south edge of Winterset.
Each building is filled with mostly donated items in outstanding condition. A genealogy research library is also on site. Picnic at one of the shaded tables. Restrooms are inside the Museum building.
Buildings include a law office, several school houses, a post office, a mercantile, a blacksmith shop, a 3-hole privy, an agricultural building, and more. Collections include early farm machinery and tools, barbed wire, quilts, Native American artifacts, and so much more.
Plan accordingly. I could’ve spent at least ½ of a day there taking time to fully appreciate the items and the meticulously kept grounds.
Be sure to take a guided tour of the 1856 Bevington-Kaser House restored and furnished in Victorian richness.
Appreciate the quality of the woodwork and the finishes. There are no roped off areas, allowing visitors to get up close to all items.
$ John Wayne Museum
Location: 205 South John Wayne Drive Winterset, Iowa
13-pound Marion Robert Morrison (today known as John Wayne) was born in Winterset, Iowa on May 26, 1907.
Visit his birthplace-a modest 4- room home & the 6100 square foot John Wayne Birthplace Museum next door. It is the only museum in the world dedicated to this Hollywood legend.
The Museum contains a movie theatre as well as a collection of artifacts and memorabilia from John Wayne’s career.
A well-appointed gift shop and restrooms are inside the Museum.
George Washington Carver Memorial Park
Location: Narrow green space west of the fire station on Court Avenue in Winterset, Iowa. It is across the street from Monumental Park-a tribute to fallen soldiers and those who fought in the Civil War.
Mr. Carver, a world-famous scientist, artist and humanitarian, lived in Madison County in the 1800s. He once worked at a hotel that stood on the spot of today’s memorial.
$ Iowa Quilt Museum
Location: 68 East Court Avenue Winterset, Iowa
• Opened May 2016
• Offers 3-4 changing exhibits per year
• Official home to the Quilts of Valor Project
• Retail items are available for sale in the lobby
• Vote for your favorite quilt
Location: 121 North John Wayne Drive Winterset, Iowa
Built in approximately 1899, the historic Iowa Theater was re-opened in May 2017 after undergoing a complete renovation. It is owned and operated by a mother/daughter team with years of entrepreneurial and creative experiences.
It shows “second run” movies-movies shown 4 to 6 weeks after they hit theaters in big cities. The concession counter has the traditional theater treats like buttered popcorn, soda and candy but it also offers locally produced wines, craft beer and locally roasted coffee. Notice the hardwood staircases on each side leading to the reopened balcony.
It is home to The Winterset Stage, which produces 3 live stage productions each year.
Keeping with the historical theme, The Theater presents classic American films on Wednesday nights. Check the website for shows and times.
Red Delicious Apple
A monument to the Delicious Apple is seen in Winterset’s City Park. Jesse Hiatt, a farmer in East Peru, discovered an unusual seedling in his apple orchard in 1872. He nurtured the tree and originally named its first fruit, “Hawkeye.”
When judged in the 1893 Missouri State Fair, a judge proclaimed it “delicious” and the name stuck.
A poster of it hangs in The Bakery Unlimited (established in 1984) located at 119 John Wayne Drive in Winterset-known for their apple fritters made exclusively with Delicious Apples.
Location: In City Park at the corner of 9th and South Street in Winterset.
The tower is accessible by car or foot (no RVs or buses). Follow signs in park-two mile round trip.
• Built in 1926 to honor the county’s first pioneer family
• Constructed from limestone
• 25-feet high
• Stunning views of the Middle River Valley
5. Green Spaces
Madison County is blessed with abundant green spaces including densely wooded river valleys, majestic limestone bluffs and gently rolling grasslands. It has 4 unique river systems that meander through the County from west to east – North River, Middle River, Grand River and Clanton Creek.
Fishing, hunting and biking opportunities are plentiful in Madison County. Here are two I visited.
Location: SE edge of Winterset at the corner of 9th & South Street
• 76 acres
• English hedge maze-find the hidden sundial
• Rotary bocce court
• Home to the Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge
• Hike or walk to Clark Tower
• Camping, picnic areas and playgrounds
Pammel State Park
Location: 4 miles SW of Winterset. From Winterset go West on State Highway 92 for 1 mile, turn South on County Highway P68 for 3 miles
• 351 acres
• Canoe access + Hiking trails + Nature Center
• Campsites, yurts and a lodge
Several wineries craft fine wines in Madison County using Iowa grapes.
I was invited to watch grapes being harvested (September 2018) at the Covered Bridge vineyard. Volunteers assist in the harvest and are treated to a cookout and wine tasting afterwards. Again showing the sense of community pride and cooperation in Madison County.
Covered Bridges Winery www.coveredbridgeswinery.com planted their first vineyard in 2004. Their production facility and tasting room is located off Highway 169 at 2207 170th Trail north of Winterset.
Visit this website for more information on Madison County Wineries and a Cidery. http://www.madisoncounty.com/wineries-spirits/
Repurposing is more than a trendy fad in Madison County. Along with retail stores like Angel Wings and CT you will find a church that’s been converted into bed and breakfast and a county jail converted into a handcrafted artisan market.
Heavenly Habitat B&B
• Located at 218 South 2nd Avenue in Winterset
• Established in 2009 and built in a former church and fellowship hall
It has 3 spacious guest rooms with private bathrooms
- Free WiFi and common area access with a great room, deck, shared kitchen and dining room
1st Avenue Collective
Location: 220 North 1st Avenue in Winterset
• Inside former Madison County Jail
• Original features and fixtures of the jail have been preserved, adding to the unique style of the store
• Filled with handcrafted artisan products made by local and regional artists-unique gifts for all occasions
• Offers nice selection of local Iowa wines
• Jewelry making classes available
Winterset is known for annual events and festivals.
Visit the Madison County Chamber website for a complete list. http://www.madisoncounty.com
The day I visited (Sept. 8, 2018) there was a morning Farmer’s Market and an evening Classic Car Show.
Their most popular event is the Madison County Covered Bridge Festival
• Held 2nd full weekend each October
• Celebrating the County’s history, heritage and culture, and its world-famous covered bridges
• Guided bridge tours are available through the local Rotary club
• Civil War reenactors tell the stories of Madison County from the 1800s and early 1900s, including tales of the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, George Washington Carver, Susan B. Anthony, and others
• Visit www.madisoncounty.com/covered-bridge-festival for complete information
Winterset businesses and residents are well prepared for visitors, including with their dining options.
One of the most popular choices is the Northside Café where Clint Eastwood had lunch in “The Bridges of Madison County.” In fact, the stool where he sat is marked.
In addition to being known for this, Northside Café is legendary for its pork tenderloin and hot roast beef sandwiches along with their desserts.
Visit www.madisoncounty.com/dining for more options.
PLAN a visit to Madison County, Iowa. Let the merchants and B&B owners know you used this post to plan.
SHARE this post with others you’d like to meet for a great weekend in Madison County.
This visit was completed with the cooperation of the Madison County, Iowa Chamber & Welcome Center.
©Copyright. September 2018. Linda Leier Thomason
All Rights Reserved. This means seek permission prior to using any images on this site. All are copyright protected and available for sale.
A special thank you to my husband, Ken, who did all the driving, as usual, for this visit.
More images are found on my Facebook and Instagram pages.
Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business.
She specializes in undercover studies of communities wishing to attract visitors for economic impact.
Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form.