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Old 09-18-2011, 10:11 AM
Location: Des Moines
586 posts, read 2,023,284 times
Reputation: 384



Madison County (population ~16,000) is good for a day trip if you want a nice rural experience. The topography is quite beautiful for Central Iowa standards, and has plenty of rolling hills and tree canopy to make it stand out from the flatter topography to the north. The last of the glaciers definitely missed this portion of the state.

The county seat of Winterset is the quintissential Iowa small town. It's got a picture-perfect town square that was of course the backdrop for the Clint Eastwood directed movie and Robert James Waller's book, the Bridges of Madison County. Despite being included in the Des Moines metro area, the town of 4,800 very much retains a rural feel. The picturesque countryside to the north and east however, is starting to fill in with luxury acreages and equestrian subdivisions for those tied to the metro, yet wanting the country life. There's definitely an infusion of tourism dollars at work here, since the community seems much healthier than the typical Iowa farm town of similar size.

We started off on the southside of Winterset in City Park, which is the town's flagship park facility. Clark Tower is a stone structure located on the high point of the huge park, built by some of the original settlers of Madison County. You can climb to the top to get panoramic views of much of the central part of the county.

View from the top:

Now on to the rest of City Park, where nearly every building is built out of native stone.

The rows of hedges are actually a maze.

The first of the famed covered bridges has been relocated to City Park. There were originally 19 covered bridges in Madison County, only 6 still remain. This is known as the Cutler-Donahoe Bridge.

Leaving City Park, it was time to see a few other bridges. The longest covered bridge remaining is the Hallowell Bridge just SE of Winterset.

View of the Middle River from the Hallowell Bridge. This river is a "designated water trail", great for canoeing and kayaking when water levels are higher.

We toured three bridges total, which is enough to get the point. Now it's back to Winterset to check out the great town square. Before the square, I snapped a few photos of some of the historic housing stock. There is a great historic neighborhood just SW of the town square that is chock full of well-preserved Victorian and Italinate houses.

First off, no tour of Winterset is complete without seeing the John Wayne Birthplace. There is a fund raising campaign underway to someday build a fairly significant-sized museum dedicated to John Wayne in Winterset.

Lots of things in town built with native Limestone:


Time to head to the square and downtown Winterset:

The centerpiece of the square is the Madison County Courthouse, clearly seeing restoration work.

Building with heritage murals of the community.

They still have a 5 and dime store!

We hit the square at the tail end of some kind of BBQ festival. The last few remenants of car show were drawing attention.

Winterset Library

City Hall

Monumental Park, 1 block off of the town square features a fine assortment of war cannons.

Obligatory small town ice cream shop.

Even the recycling center located at the town grocery store is covered bridge themed.

Thanks for viewing.
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Old 09-20-2011, 01:49 PM
Location: around the way
657 posts, read 986,709 times
Reputation: 432
Beautiful photo set. It's nice to see that they've managed to keep their downtown vibrant without losing the small town character or getting overtaken by McDonalds, Starbucks, etc. Also, I'd never realized that they had so many cool-looking old homes. I'll definitely try to make a trip down to check it out next time I'm back home.
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Old 09-20-2011, 09:18 PM
28,717 posts, read 42,587,471 times
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I haven't been to Winterset since the mid sixties. Nice to see it's still a beautiful town. Thanks for the memories.
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