The Cedar Bridge played an important role in the novel ‘The Bridges Of Madison County.’ Francesca Johnson, a local farm wife played by Meryl Streep, accompanies photographer Robert Kincaid, played by Clint Eastwood, as Kincaid photographed the bridge. Johnson later cheated on her hardworking farmer husband with Kincaid.
Oprah Winfrey enjoyed the novel so much that she called it her favorite book of the year in 1993. Winfrey took her daytime television show on the road to interview author Robert Waller at the Cedar Bridge on May 21, 1993. The book, already on the New York Times bestseller list, became a smash hit based on the exposure from the Oprah Winfrey Show. Over the next few months, every major media outlet visited Madison County, including CBS News icon Charles Kuralt.
Disaster struck the Cedar Bridge when it was set on fire by an arsonist on September 3, 2002. The bridge was apparently set on fire about 8:45 PM that evening. The dry wood burned quickly, and there was nothing that firefighters could do. The bridge was treated with a chemical to help the wood resist water, but that treatment might have helped the fire to spread more quickly. Another historic covered bridge was destroyed by arson exactly one year later in Delta, Iowa, and the Hogback Bridge was set on fire two days later. The Roseman Bridge was also set on fire, but that fire did not spread. The arsonist has never been caught despite large rewards being offered. The covered bridges in Madison County are now monitored 24 hours per day with video cameras and hardwired alarm systems.
The new Cedar Bridge was built between December 2003 and September 2004. After the debris of the old bridge was removed, the approaches were regraded and new bridge piers were driven into the riverbed. Next, a large work platform was built just below the level of the finished bridge. The truss members that would form the sides of the bridge were laid out and built on the work platform, then raised into place with a crane. The floor beams were attached between the truss members. Next, the roof structure was built, the deck was installed, and the sides of the bridge were sheeted off. Once the bridge was done, the work platform was removed, and new approach spans were built. The new bridge was dedicated on October 9, 2004, during the annual Madison County Covered Bridge Festival.
While the current Cedar Bridge is a replica, it was built from original plans that were validated using period photographs. The bridge materials are as authentic as possible, with key exceptions being modern bolts and shingles being used on the new structure. Construction methods were also similar to how the original bridge was built, however, modern tools were used. This includes power tools and cranes. The end result is a faithful replica of the historic bridge that captures both the character and spirit of the old bridge.
The photo above is looking north towards the southeast side of the Cedar Bridge. The bridge crosses Cedar Creek just after it flows out of Cedar Lake. The creek eventually empties into the North River. The photo above is looking towards the south bridge portal. Note that the bridge portals are not blocked off. The new Cedar Bridge is the only covered bridge in Madison County that remains open to vehicle traffic.