Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge, Winterset, Madison County, Iowa

Date added: December 10, 2023 Categories: Iowa Covered Bridges Town Lattice Truss
North side (1975)

Cutler Bridge is one of nineteen covered bridges built in Madison County, Iowa, in the late nineteenth century and the second-oldest of the five that survive. Originally located over the North River near Bevington, the bridge was moved to its present site in Winterset City Park in 1970.

Between 1868 and 1884, Madison County erected nineteen wooden covered bridges. Over time, all but five of these structures were lost to floods, fires, progress or willful destruction. In 1933, the Madison County Historical Society began campaigning to preserve the county's ten surviving covered bridges, but they faced strong opposition from progress-minded citizens and local farmers, who desired modern open spans. Controversy continued for nearly two decades, and during that time, several more covered bridges were lost.

In 1950, the Madison County Board of Supervisors finally agreed to maintain the county's seven surviving covered bridges as tourist attractions. One by one, the bridges were moved or bypassed over the next three decades, but the county upheld its commitment to preserve them. In 1970, the county held the first annual Madison County Covered Bridge Festival, a time-honored event that now draws thousands of visitors each year. Tourism increased dramatically in the 1990s following the publication and subsequent movie adaptation of Robert James Waller's novel, the Bridges of Madison County.

Unfortunately, the covered bridges are still threatened by vandalism and arson. McBride Bridge was burned in 1983, Cedar Bridge was burned in 2002, and there were subsequent arson attempts on Hogback and Roseman bridges. In cooperation with the Coalition for Advanced Wood Structures (USDA Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory and Iowa State University Bridge Engineering Center), Madison County is currently testing a remote-monitoring system to identify and mitigate potentially destructive activities at covered bridges. The ultimate goal is to develop tools for long-term preservation of historic timber bridges across the country.

Eli Cox (1835-1885), builder of the bridge, emigrated from Ohio to Madison County, Iowa in 1856. He built houses, barns, schools, churches, and commercial buildings in and around Winterset, but he is probably best remembered for his bridges. Cox began building bridges in 1864, but his early bridges were not covered. In 1868, he built Madison County's first covered bridge near his farm and subsequently built at least five other covered bridges in the county.

Bridge Description

The Cutler-Donahue Covered Bridge, built by Eli Cox in 1871, covers a span of 76 feet and has a pitched roof. Town lattice type of construction was used, a criss-cross web of planks, fashioned to form a solid, durable truss, held together by trunnell pins (treenails). The skeleton structure is of native lumber, hewn and shaped to fit the purpose. The outside is of regular pine boards, the roof of wood shingles.

This bridge was originally built to span North River in Crawford Township, Sect. 11. During the summer of 1970, the 40-ton bridge was moved 18 miles to the Winterset City Park and placed on steel abutments spanning a natural ravine just inside the park entrance. The structure was repaired and repainted in red with white trim. Its use is now restricted to pedestrian traffic. The bridge was rehabilitated in 1997 for $35,538.

Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge, Winterset, Madison County, Iowa North side (1975)
North side (1975)

Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge, Winterset, Madison County, Iowa Northeast (2004)
Northeast (2004)

Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge, Winterset, Madison County, Iowa Detail, truss work (2004)
Detail, truss work (2004)