The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to the Covered Bridge Festival

Even though there’s still a lot of uncertainty in the world, it’s been a welcome change to be able to return to some of activities that we love in our community this year—like the Covered Bridge Festival!

In addition to celebrating our ability to reunite on the second weekend in October, this particular iteration of the annual festival will celebrate one of Winterset’s most important and influential citizens, George Stout. Well known in recent years due to his character’s role in the book and movie Monuments Men, George Leslie Stout was an American art conservation specialist and museum director who founded the first laboratory in the United States to study art conservation, as well as the first journalist on the subject of art conservation. As the Allies marched through France and Germany, Stout was near the front lines helping to rescue cultural treasures.

Keep reading to learn how Stout’s legacy will be highlighted in several ways throughout the 2021 Covered Bridge Festival starting with a screening of Monuments Men on Wednesday night at the Iowa Theater.

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Walk Around the Clock

Wednesday • October 6 • Noon
Winterset Town Square

Wellness Wednesday in Winterset for October will kick off this celebratory weekend with the monthly “Walk around the Clock” on October 6, at 12 noon, on the square. It’s also the Healthiest State Initiative “official walk” so join guest “DJ” Jessie Lowry of Madison County Conservation for your noon-time stroll. Be glad that the walk is at noon because Jessie’s theme is “Spooky and Scary Music!”

The Monuments Men

October 6 • 7:00pm
The Iowa Theater

Although it may not quite fulfill the “Way Back” requirement, the Iowa Theater will launch us into this year’s festival with a showing of Monuments Men on Wednesday evening.

The Iowa will also screen the George Stout documentary, Stout Hearted: George Stout and the Guardians of Art, at 3:00 and 5:00 on Saturday and 12:00 on Sunday.



October 7 • 7:00pm
The Iowa Theater

Lest you be confused, the film MONUMENTS has nothing to do with the Monuments Men—they just happen to have a similar title. It also doesn’t really have anything to do with the festival, but it’s another cool thing that’s happening this week!

MONUMENTS is an Odyssey-like exploration of grief, a film about life and death, and above all love and loss. Shot both in Illinois and Colorado, and everywhere in between (including Winterset!), Monuments follows Ted who, after the sudden death of his semi-estranged wife Laura, steals her ashes from her strange family and takes a cross-country journey to scatter them at the Field Museum in Chicago. Hot on his heels is Laura’s would-be, but definitely-never-was paramour Howl, and on the road Ted encounters three singing sirens, directionally challenged mechanics, and Laura, who joins him as a ghost, and a guide.

Monuments is a comedy, a tragedy, briefly a musical, and ultimately a story about the memories we keep of those we love. The film was directed by Jack C. Newell, with story credits by Wintersetian Marianne Fons and her daughter (and Jack’s wife) Rebecca Fons. Jack, Marianne and Rebecca will be at Thursday’s screening for a Q&A after the show.


Covered Bridges of Madison County Antique Tractor Ride

October 8 • 8:30am
All Five Covered Bridges

Each year, antique tractor enthusiasts join up on the Friday before the Covered Bridge Festival for a ride to all five covered bridges. If you’re out and about on Friday morning, you might just run into them. If you hang out at one of the bridges, you’ll be sure to catch them!

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New This Year

At each festival, we can expect certain traditions. However, the festival committees also do a great job of proving some new treats each year. Here are some of the new things you can expect in 2021…

Festival Events Honoring George Stout

*The following is tentative and subject to change.

The Mayor’s Proclamation of George Stout Day
Time: 9:15 am, Saturday (immediately following the presentation of festival royalty)
Location: The Benge Family Stage (corner of 1st Avenue and Jefferson Street)

Exhibit of Historical Photos of George Stout
Time: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Saturday and Sunday,
Location: In front of The Iowa Theater at 121 John Wayne Drive (inside the festival grounds)

Unveiling the Historical Marker at the George Stout Boyhood Home, including meet & greet with the family of George Stout
Time: 11:00 am to 12:00 pm, Saturday
Location: 709 E. Jefferson Street, Winterset

Art Conservation Demonstrations by Sara Boesen of SJ Fine Art
Time: Saturday from 10:00 to 11:00 and 12:00 to 1:00
and Sunday from 11:00 to 12:00
Location: The George Stout Tent in front of The Iowa Theater, 121 John Wayne Drive (inside the festival grounds) 

Free Showings of “Stout Hearted: George Stout and the Guardians of Art” documentary movie
Time: Saturday at 3:00, and 5:00, and Sunday at 12:00
Location: The Iowa Theater

Appearance by the family of George Stout in the Covered Bridge Festival Parade
Time: Starting at 2:00 pm

“Conservation Materials for Preserving Artwork,” Art conservation workshops by Tom Koehler
Time: Saturday from 9:30-10:00 and 4:00-4:30. 
Location: Winterset Art Center, 224 S. John Wayne Dr.

Ilene Devlin Book Signing

Saturday • October 10 • 2:00 – 4:00pm
Ben Franklin Store

Ilene W. Devlin was born in Winterset, Iowa, (daughter of Art & Evanelle Whitworth). Attending the University of Iowa, Devlin obtained a BA in anthropology and an MA in archaeology and museum training. She later worked in museums in Nebraska, Tennessee, and Alabama. Since 1986, Ilene Devlin has lived in San Antonio, Texas. She has been a desktop publisher and a magazine owner/editor. Her freelance articles and essays have been published in newspapers in San Antonio and Iowa.

On Saturday from 2:00 – 4:00pm, Devlin will be at Ben Franklin signing copies of her two most recent books.

The Ripper’s Children

Imagine how you would feel if you woke up one day and learned that your best friend was the most prolific serial killer in America and most of his victims looked like you. That was the start of a forty-year quest to understand the mind of a killer and friend. The search led to others like him and their dark compulsions. How can they murder multiple human beings without remorse? 

The Ripper’s Children: Inside the World of Modern Serial Killers is a nonfiction book that examines how their murderous drives may originate. Can serial murderers control their killing sprees? Are the causes social, genetic, or biochemical? The book sheds light on the blackest corner of the human mind. This book may cause you to take a closer look at your relatives, friends, and neighbors.

Truth and Fiction: Essays & Short Stories on Life

Essays written in this collection range from humorous to thought-provoking. One treasured memory is having Saturday night snacks and television time at my uncle and aunt’s house. Another examines my amazement at the lack of people’s common sense. A third reveals how my first cruise to the Bahamas became a chaotic and frustrating travel adventure. 

In the fiction section, short stories range from the inspirational to the suspenseful to the comedic. In one, a lonely woman encounters an astute young lad who needs a friend. Another features a man who finds death to be the permanent solution. A third shows how laughter sometimes is all one has left after life’s bruises.

Truth and Fiction can help readers develop insights into life. They may then gain more understanding of their own journey.

James Graham Art Exhibit

Saturday & Sunday 10:00am – 4:00pm
Winterset Art Center

James Graham was born in Madison County in 1921, and graduated from Winterset High School in 1940. Following military service, his career as a commercial artist took him to Kansas City and then Houston, where he designed exhibits for trade shows and conventions for such clients as Bell Telephone, Schlumberger, and NASA. He returned to Iowa in 1967, and he and his wife Dorothy Graham became active in the Winterset Art Center. He pursued watercolor painting as a hobby and taught sketching and painting classes. The Grahams’ daughter Marianne Fons is loaning many pieces of her father’s artworks for the exhibit; the Grahams’ sons, Jim Graham of El Paso and David Graham of Melbourne, FL, will visit during the exhibit.

Several of Graham’s pieces are also being offered in a silent auction to benefit the Winterset Art Center. During exhibit hours you will have the opportunity to bid on framed original art works, or secure the piece immediately with a Take It Home Now Bid. All proceeds are going to the Winterset Art Center programs and operating expenses.

Entertainment on the Benge Stage

Entertainment is nothing new for the Covered Bridge Festival but this year, due to the courthouse construction, there will be just ONE stage. The Benge Family stage will be located near the corner of 1st Avenue and Jefferson.

Saturday, October 9th

9:00 am • Flag Raising & National Anthem
9:15 am • Presentation of Festival Royalty
9:30 am • Nancy Triplett and Family
10:15 am • The Abe Miller Band
11:30 am • Benge Family
12:30 pm • Spotlight Dance Studio
1:00 pm • DSM Dueling Fiddles
2:15 pm • Eliana Franzenburg
4:00 pm • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Sunday, October 10th

10:15 am • Heartland Youth Choir and Madison County Music Co.
12:00 pm • Dueling Fiddles
1:15 pm • Lance Bird
3:00 pm • Chris Powell
4:15 pm • Winterset High School Choir

If you’re wondering about the spelling bee, it will take place at the Iowa Theater instead of the courthouse stage on Saturday—11:00 for junior spellers and 1:00 for the senior bee.

Adult Beverages

This year, festival-goers who are 21 years and older (and have a valid ID) will be able to enjoy beer and wine within the festival grounds (no glass containers). Cocktails may be enjoyed inside the dining establishments that serve them.

In addition to local restaurants who serve alcohol, Rolling Taps Beer Co., Madison County Winery and Covered Bridges Winery will be serving inside the festival grounds.

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Festival Favorites

Quilt Show

Saturday • 9:00 – 5:00
Sunday • 10:00 – 4:00
Winterset Elementary

Each year the Covered Bridge Quilters gather quilts from across the community to display during the festival. This exhibition happens in the Winterset Elementary Gymnasium at 214 S 2nd Ave and has a separate admission fee. The event serves as a fundraiser for the guild which makes and donates hundreds of baby quilts to the neonatal intensive care unit each year.

I would image that this year’s show will include lots of quilts that were made, or at least finished, during the past 18 months! Visitors to the show will also find a boutique to shop.

IQM Exhibit

Mary Barton’s Quilt and Textile Legacy
Iowa Quilt Museum

The current exhibit at the Iowa Quilt Museum, features quilts that tell the story of Mary Alice Pemble Barton (1917-2003), who composed her life with fabric and thread and fueled it with curiosity and creativity.

She started sewing her own dresses in grade school, often winning Iowa State Fair ribbons for her work. At night Mary slept beneath quilts her grandmothers made for her and quilts passed down through generations, but did not start making quilts until after she began studying and collecting them.

The scarcity of published information about quilts added impetus to Mary’s investigation. She became recognized expert as a textile researcher, lecturer, and quilt historian and was inducted into the Quilters Hall of Fame in 1984.

The Iowa Quilt Museum is located on the south side of the courthouse so is inside the festival grounds. There is an admission charge to see the exhibit and they have a wonderful gift shop as well. Look for the huge quilted barn!

Passport to the Past

Saturday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Sunday 11:00 am to 4:00 pm
Madison County Historical Complex

During Covered Bridge Festival, the Madison County Historical Complex hosts a variety of old-fashioned demonstrations that bring history to life as it was 100+ years ago. Visitors can enjoy free admission to the museum and mansion, demonstrations of wood carving and leather working, and free wagon rides on the museum grounds.

Saturday at 4:00pm and Sunday at Noon you can also witness a re-enacted Civil War skirmish, and on Saturday evening at 6:45pm, enjoy some free s’mores and popcorn before the nighttime cannon firing that will take place at approximately 7:15pm.

History on the Hill will also host a traveling museum THIS WEEKEND ONLY. The exhibit “Iowa History 101: Iowa’s People & Places” explores 13,000 years of Iowa history with 56 artifacts from the State Historical Museum of Iowa. This custom-built Winnebago will visit all 99 counties and this will be its only visit to Madison County. A big Thank You goes to the State Historical Society of Iowa!

Parking at the complex is very limited, so it is suggested that you take the RED shuttle from 1st Ave & Washington to the museum complex. This school bus makes a continuous route with only three stops: 1 block from the Courthouse, the Historical Museum, and Fairground parking.

Car Show

Sunday • 8:00am to 3:00pm
110 W Washington St

Held on Sunday only, just off the square, this massive show is a car-lovers dream. This is the 36th year for the annual show and if you have a classic vehicle that you’d like to show off, you can still register at the gate the day of the show for $20.

Chicken Noodle Dinner

Saturday • 11:00am to 1:00pm
First United Methodist Church
309 E Jefferson

If you prefer home-cooking to street vendor food, visit the First United Methodist Church on Saturday for their annual chicken and noodle luncheon. In addition to the main entree, you can find a variety of salads and pie!

Bridge Tours

Saturday 10:00 am to 3:00pm
Sunday 10:00am am to Noon
Get Tickets at the Rotary Club tent on S 1st Ave.

If you’d like to visit some of the historic covered bridges during the Madison County Covered Bridge Festival, there’s an easy way to do it!

The Winterset Rotary Club hosts bus tours of the covered bridges on Saturday from 10am to 3pm and Sunday from 10am to Noon. The price is $10 per person, and the tour is approximately two hours long. With a knowledgeable step-on guide full of covered bridge history and lore, you’ll visit Roseman, Hogback, and Cutler-Donahoe bridges, in addition to the North River Schoolhouse.

Tickets can be purchased at the Rotary booth on the festival grounds, near The Cellar coffee shop on 1st Avenue. Tours depart from 1st Avenue and Washington Street, near the George Stout public art project. It’s a great way to see the bridges without navigating through festival traffic and gravel roads.


Sunday • 2:00pm

The annual parade will start at Winterset High School, travel north on 8th Avenue then East on Court, dropping south to Washington from 2nd Ave to 4th Street to avoid the festival grounds, before returning to Court Ave again to end at 10th Street.

Additional festival information can be found at the
Madison County Chamber of Commerce Website

Life after the Festival

Auditions for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Thursday • October 14th • 7pm
Saturday • October 16th • 4pm
The Winterset Stage

The Winterset Stage will be bringing the beloved Christmas tale about the havoc-wreaking Herdmans to the stage this December and you’re invited to be a part of it! There are roles for adults and children alike. Auditions will be held at the Iowa Theater and you only need attend one date, not both.

If you’re interested in auditioning, please sign up using the button below. This helps The Winterset Stage know who and how many they’re expecting! You’ll be emailed some short excerpts to prepare for the audition.

Youth Basketball League Registration

Open Through November 12
Winterset Parks & Recreation

Registration is now open for both of our youth basketball programs. The youth basketball league will again be partnering with Adel Parks and Recreation, Van Meter Parks and Recreation, and Perry Parks & Recreation Department. The league is open for boys and girls in grades 1st – 6th grade.

The Lil’ Husky basketball program in partnership with Winterset Huskies is available for those boys and girls who are in Pre-K (kindergarten next year) or currently enrolled in kindergarten! Registration for both programs is only $30 per participant and includes a t-shirt or a basketball.

It’s a GREAT day to be a Winterset Citizen—
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