Thanks to the Winterset newspaper The Madisonian and the tireless efforts of the Madison County Historical Society, the life of The Iowa Theater has been chronicled. The timeline of The Iowa illustrates how important the theater and it’s improvements were and are to the community, and how The Iowa is part of America’s cinema history as a classic movie house that has withstood the test of time, grown to accommodate technological developments, and adapted to meet the needs of its audiences. 

Photo of 121 John Wayne Drive (known historically as First Street) in approximately the early 1900s. This photo shows the building when it was a grocery store, prior to being converted to a theater in 1914. Photo provided by the Madison County Historical Society. 

Photo of 121 John Wayne Drive (known historically as First Street) in approximately the early 1900s. This photo shows the building when it was a grocery store, prior to being converted to a theater in 1914. Photo provided by the Madison County Historical Society. 

Built in approximately 1899, the location was originally a one-story grocer and meat market. In 1914 the building was remodeled with a new front and a raised floor to become, as the Madisonian noted, “a first class movie show.” A place for performance as well as cinema, the paper went on to report that same year that, “The new play house will be open on next Thursday evening with moving pictures for the first evening’s entertainment." 

1920s photo of High School Operetta, which was performed on the stage at The Iowa. Photo provided by the Madison County Historical Society Photograph Collection. 

1920s photo of High School Operetta, which was performed on the stage at The Iowa. Photo provided by the Madison County Historical Society Photograph Collection. 

In 1920, the Madisonian wrote, “Manager A. B. Pettit has begun extensive alterations in the Iowa Theatre that will make it as fine as any theatre of its size in Iowa. As an improvement to Winterset's business section the Iowa will represent considerable expenditure of money on Mr. Pettit's part and the movie fans will no doubt appreciate his efforts to give the best possible results for the money. Pettit has also installed two new Powers 6-B picture machines. This means not only a much better and clearer picture, but will do away with stopping and rethreading between reels. This improvement will make The Iowa one of the best-equipped movie theatres in the smaller cities.” 

In 1925 the management purchased an “usual musical instrument”: a Fotoplayer pipe organ, a “new improvement in Winterset of interest to theater goers.”

Clippings from The Madisonian, advertising the installation of the RCA Photophone in 1930. Scan provided by Wayne Davis.

Clippings from The Madisonian, advertising the installation of the RCA Photophone in 1930. Scan provided by Wayne Davis.

In 1928 extensive changes included adding a second story to make room for a balcony, a new brick front and marquee and redecoration in the lobby. As the Madisonian noted, “When the building is completed it will be one of the finest theatres in southern Iowa.” After these extensive projects, The Iowa reopened in late 1928 and debuted the solid oak doors and woodwork that remain in the front lobby area today. 

The Iowa continued to make headlines by offering the first presentation of a film with sound in 1930. “Engineers, electricians and technicians from the Chicago and Minneapolis offices of the RCA Photophone have been in Winterset for several days working on the installation," The Madisonian noted. "Patrons of The Iowa are assured of the finest sound and talking pictures it is possible for any theatre to present. You will see and hear the greatest variety of entertainment ever offered, the same quality that has been available only to the big city theatregoers.”

Photo of The Iowa Theater, circa 1940s (the Ford Model T car visible is a promotional vehicle). The film advertised on the marquee is "Kentucky", released in 1938 and starring Loretta Young. Photo provided by Gary Allen. 

Photo of The Iowa Theater, circa 1940s (the Ford Model T car visible is a promotional vehicle). The film advertised on the marquee is "Kentucky", released in 1938 and starring Loretta Young. Photo provided by Gary Allen. 

In 1938 extensive improvements occurred, including the installation of the red and ivory porcelain front panels and the renovation of the marquee, which was also faced in porcelain and featured neon signs and 100 lights under the canopy. 

September 1942 Madisonian article announcing The Iowa's involvement in a nation-wide billion dollar war bond and stamp drive. Bonus bit of news regarding feed wheat!

September 1942 Madisonian article announcing The Iowa's involvement in a nation-wide billion dollar war bond and stamp drive. Bonus bit of news regarding feed wheat!

In July of 1944, it was announced that owner and operator Bruce Pettit would be selling the Iowa to new owner Eben Hays. Pettit was praised for his role in making the Iowa "one of the finest motion picture exhibiting houses in Iowa." Bruce Pettit ran the Iowa for 29 years, from 1915-1944. 

October 1946 programming advertisement in the Madisonian.

October 1946 programming advertisement in the Madisonian.

1966 promotion in The Madisonian for the "October National Movietime Jubilee", offering free tickets to ladies-only who shop at Montross or Schuster Pharmacy.

1966 promotion in The Madisonian for the "October National Movietime Jubilee", offering free tickets to ladies-only who shop at Montross or Schuster Pharmacy.

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June 1968 advertisement for Valley of the Dolls and children's matinee of Tarzan. Also, the first time the spelling of "theatre" changes to "theater". 

The Iowa's dedication to live performance is evident in the theater's history. In January 1972, The Apple Tree Players, Inc. signed on to use the Iowa to perform The Mousetrap. The action supported both the theater and the theater group. The Iowa Theater will proudly be the new home of The Winterset Stage, beginning in June of 2017. As Mrs. Dick James, president of the Apple Tree Players said in 1972, "This community needs a movie theatre, and can support one." 

May 1995 brought the excitement of The Bridges of Madison County's success to Winterset. A local premiere was held on June 1, 1995 at The Iowa as the film hit theaters around the country.  

May 1995 brought the excitement of The Bridges of Madison County's success to Winterset. A local premiere was held on June 1, 1995 at The Iowa as the film hit theaters around the country.  

The Bridges of Madison County premiere at the Iowa Theater, 1995. Photo courtesy Wayne Davis. 

The Bridges of Madison County premiere at the Iowa Theater, 1995. Photo courtesy Wayne Davis. 

September 1998 Madisonian report regarding the challenges of installing quality equipment while staying afloat as a small business. 

September 1998 Madisonian report regarding the challenges of installing quality equipment while staying afloat as a small business. 

April 2001 Madisonian article announcing the installation of new seats. The 2001 seats will again be used when The Iowa reopens in 2017. Kudos to the previous management and patrons for taking such good care of these seats!

April 2001 Madisonian article announcing the installation of new seats. The 2001 seats will again be used when The Iowa reopens in 2017. Kudos to the previous management and patrons for taking such good care of these seats!

August 2015 cover of The Madisonian, announcing the planned renovation of The Iowa Theater. 

August 2015 cover of The Madisonian, announcing the planned renovation of The Iowa Theater.