Since 1970, the second full weekend in October has been dedicated as Madison County’s time to shine — time to honor the treasures of its rural communities, and time to re-experience the rich history through story telling.
The Madison County Covered Bridge Festival has traditionally featured its beautiful iconic Covered Bridges and historical landmarks. But this year, the bridges step down just a tiny notch, and the focus goes to reaching out to the county’s residents to invite them to share their family’s cherished stories and memories that stand as testament to the popularity of Madison County and why so many have chose to call it home.
Thus the theme to this year’s 43rd annual Covered Bridge Festival is “The Stories of Madison County.” In fact, local residents and visitors alike have been invited to share their own stories and experiences or those passed down to them from other generations that also marked their time in Madison County and chose to call it home. It promises to be an interesting story-telling experience with a fresh take on the historical threads to Madison County’s past.
According to Rich Mills, the idea came from the addition of a visitor’s journal that has been in place at the Hogback Covered Bridge for the past year.
“We have invited the visitors to write in the journal about their visits or any other interesting stories they would like to share about Madison County,” he says. “We have eight or nine journals already full. We would like even more stories, though, so are asking anyone who would like to share theirs to email them to me at email@example.com with the subject line ‘Stories of Madison County.’ We know there are a lot of fun facts and interesting stories still untold; we are hoping to hear from a lot of people.”
Perhaps there will be stories of the early settlers and their travels.
Martha Tidrick once wrote: “We came down the Ohio and up to St. Louis by side-wheel steamer and up the booming Mississippi River … “And it was a booming Mississippi too; it was so wide, being at flood stage, that we thought we had made a mistake and got into the ocean.
“At Keokuk we loaded all our earthly possessions into a wagon and headed for Madison County. We were moving in fine style. No slowpoke oxen for us! We had a fine team and were proud as Lucifer of them. It would have been all right I suppose if it hadn’t rained. But it did. After it rained, it poured. And then it rained again … we drove miles and miles out of our way to find ways to cross the rivers. But at last, the blessed sight on the evening of the first day of May, 1852 when Old Man Bird’s cabin loomed on the horizon … the finest palace in all the world will never look more welcome than did that little cabin — in Madison County.”
Or, maybe the newfound stories will offer insight into the celebratory nature of our kinsman …
July 1890: “An enjoyable time was had at the home of N.S. on Monday last, which was the anniversary of N.S’s 89th birthday. The heat was most intense and the room small, but this impediment was soon overcome, for the forest was nearby, which was raided by willing hands and strong arms, and so the saplings were cut down and the posts were set and the frame was made and the poles were rolled up and the leafy boughs were spread for a covering and altogether the arbor was made complete, wherein about 80 persons of all ages and sexes, most of who were relatives, rallied to participate in the festivities of the day, but more especially to do honor to a father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather, citizen, friend … he has lived to see 112 immediate descendents and scores of loving and tried friends. (Note: this is just one of hundreds of characterizing snippets compiled and edited by a dedicated resident of Madison County, Mary Ann Banks.)
Festival traditions and tweaks
The festival will once again be held on and around Winterset’s historical Courthouse Square Oct. 13 – 14 and has been designed to give visitors a glimpse back at life in Madison County before the turn of the 20th century.
Mother Nature typically provides an added highlight of the festival each year — the spectacular fall colors and the season’s flora and harvest offer the perfect backdrop for the artist’s palette or camera’s eye. Whether you come to see canons, parades or covered bridges, it’s all waiting for you at this year’s Madison County Covered Bridge Festival in Winterset.
Auctions, dancing and more
Some of the vendors at the festival include a wide variety of local artisans/craftsmen, demonstrators, farmer’s markets and food booths galore.
The booth openings and demonstrations begin at 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. with evening events to follow, including a wine tasting at the City Park/Cutler-Donahoe Bridge with entertainment provided by the R.B.J. Trio. Some of the daily demonstrations include sheep shearing, candle dipping, weaving and basket and pottery making.
Also on deck for this year’s festival is non-stop entertainment including musicians, singers of all sorts, gymnasts, square dancers, barbershop quartets, belt buckle auction, and much more throughout the weekend. Competitions will once again include the chance to sit a spell and watch the “Old Fashioned Spelling Bee” and the always-entertaining horseshoe pitching challenge. In addition to the artisan and demonstrators, there are also storytellers who portray the tales of early Iowa history, including stories told by George Washington Carver and “Uncle” Henry Wallace, two familiar names who each called Winterset “home.”
Guided tours to the bridges
Guided tour buses will once again be a convenient and entertaining way to get to know the bridges of Madison County. The storybook tours depart regularly and include informative stops along the way at some of the county’s famous Covered Bridges where passengers may disembark and enjoy the bridges up close and personal. Along the way, the tour guides will also share historical facts and trivia, and, of course, the fun-filled tales that came with the filming of author Robert Waller’s romantic love story, “Bridges of Madison County.”
Ride with the Clydesdales
Another fun guided tour would be the impressive walk through in the magnificent County Courthouse. Or take the free shuttle ride from the Square to the Historical Complex or the John Wayne Birthplace — but be prepared, these shuttles are the four-legged kind with a hitch of four powerful Clydesdales.
The unique and highly-collectible commemorative coin struck this year will feature two of the county’s historical structures: the McBride Covered Bridge, one of the county’s original seven historical covered bridges (tragically burnt down in 1980 and never restored) and the charming yet architecturally-challenging Limestone Bridge located at the Winterset City Park.
Back by popular demand
The Antique and Classic Auto Show, hosted by The Central Iowa Auto Club, will begin on Sunday morning at 8 a.m. Judging for the 27th Annual Madison County Car Show begins at noon. The show features hundreds of beautifully restored cars and trucks, all vying for awards in the various different classes.
Learn about Madison County
Passport to the Past is an entertaining program designed for children and their families to help celebrate Madison County’s culture and history.
Kids 12 and under get a “passport” stamped at eight different stations they can visit. With six stamps, they receive a prize. Activities include old fashioned lessons and games held at the Tusha School house located on the grounds of the Madison County Museum. Also, scavenger hunts, a tour of the historical Madison County Courthouse and hands-on activities at the Winterset Library will be held, to name just a few.
Who doesn’t love a parade?
Bring along your lawn chairs Sunday for a curbside seat of the Antique Vehicle Parade that starts at 2 p.m. Hosted by the Winterset Lions Club, the old-fashioned fun features amazing antique vehicles and tractors, and floats, horses, marching bands and much more.
The festival grounds admission fee will be $2 each day, with children 11 and under admitted for free. Parking is free, with shuttle service to outlying lots and various Festival venues.
For more information, visit www.madisoncounty.com to locate maps and county information.