A passer-by alerted authorities at 8:38 p.m. Tuesday that the Cedar Bridge -- the last covered bridge in Madison County -- was on fire.
"It's part of the past and something that can never be replaced," area resident Tami Little lamented to the Des Moines Register. "It just breaks your heart."
The state fire marshal planned to initiate an investigation Wednesday to determine the cause of the fire. Arson has not been ruled out.
The 76-foot bridge was built over Cedar Creek in 1883 by Benton Jones and was moved to its current location in 1921. It was renovated in 1998 for $128,073 and was the only covered bridge still open to vehicles. The span was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Waller's 1992 novel memorializing the bridge was made into a movie staring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep in 1995 and inspired thousands of tourists to visit the area. Oprah Winfrey was so taken by the story of Francesca Johnson meeting photographer Robert Kincaid, she broadcast her talk show live from the bridge in 1993.