ISD Road Trip: Winterset, more than bridges and film stars

The inside of one of the covered bridges in Madison County. The county is known for covering bridges to protect them from weathering. 

Frances Myers

All visitors who set foot on Iowa soil probably know they are bound to come across a small town at some point, no matter how hard they try to avoid it. That’s one of the many things Iowa is known for. Small towns and friendly people.

Winterset has done its share to keep local businesses and “the little man” alive and thriving. Come into the town square, and you’re surrounded with small businesses such as the Northside Café, local realtors, barbershops, small antique shops, as well as other local restaurants. The few larger businesses were vastly outnumbered.

Per usual, we chose food for our first stop. We stopped at Northside Café, which is famous for its role in the popular movie, “The Bridges of Madison County,” starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. In the movie, Eastwood stopped at the café for a cup of coffee and sat at one of the bar stools — the fourth bar stool from the front, to be exact.

At first glance, Northside Café looks to be very small with only about 10 to 15 bar stools and maybe 10 booths. So when we went inside and found all the seats filled, we were a little apprehensive when the waitress told us to follow her. For a minute, the four of us were convinced she was going to seat us in the kitchen. However, our fears were quickly put to rest when we came upon a door that led not to the kitchen but to a larger room filled with tables and other people eating.

After filling ourselves to the brim with delicious food, we headed outside and walked around the town square which was buzzing with people celebrating John Wayne’s birthday. Winterset is famous for being John Wayne’s birthplace.

As we walked in and out of stores, music could be heard, and the smell of pie was in the air. Every store we walked into had pie of some sort on tables. Pie Squared was one of the main events of the John Wayne Birthday Celebration. The church ladies of Madison County baked over 225 pies.

According to the Madison County website, “In 2011, over 2,000 pieces of homemade pie of every imaginable kind (baked by the “church ladies” of Madison County) were consumed by Pie Squared attendees.”

After walking around for a while, we decided it would be a good idea to check out what Winterset, or Madison County as a whole is best known for — the covered bridges. Originally there were 19 covered bridges in Madison County. Six of those remain today. Five of these are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We visited Hogback, Roseman, Cedar, Cutler-Donahoe and Holliwell. Due to time constraints we did not get a chance to visit Imes.

Apparently, a common theme with visiting the bridges is visiting them with your lover. We found so many messages written upon the walls of the bridges depicting two people in love. Many of them were happy. Some, however, not so much. The hapless romantics in us were brought out as we couldn’t help but be swept away by these messages written so eloquently upon such prominent pieces of history.

The day coming to an end, we stopped for a bite to eat at Frostees Desserts. Remember how we mentioned before Winterset is definitely a town for the little man? Well, this just illustrates that. Winterset does not have a Dairy Queen but instead feeds the ice cream cravings of people through an ice cream stand that sells cold and hot snacks for an inexpensive price. We got a large waffle cone with twist ice cream for a mere $2.

Try getting that at DQ.