Skip to main content

Snake Alley - Burlington, Iowa

One of the crookedest streets in the United States of America is in a place that you may not expect. In Burlington, Iowa, a small city located on the banks of the Mississippi River, lies Snake Alley. This is a twisty, curvy street that descends (or ascends) a hill between the residential and commercial parts of the city, named for a snake due to the way the street meanders around the hill. The business district of Burlington is built in a natural amphitheater surrounded by hills. With all the commerce situated in the valley, transportation was extremely difficult for the residents living on the steep hills surrounding the downtown. Therefore, the citizens of Burlington citizens decided to try an experiment for travel between the residential and commercial areas of town.


In 1894, Snake Alley was constructed with an experimental street design, filled with switchbacks. It was planned and implemented by three local residents who were also engineers and paving contractors, Charles Starker, William Steyh and George Kriechbaum. These gentlemen were involved with developing the parks and projects of Burlington during that time period. In designing Snake Alley, they opted to replicate the vineyard paths found in France and Germany, as a nod to their German roots. The brick paving of Snake Alley is still the original brick that Kriechbaum provided in 1894.

Snake Alley is composed of tooled, curved limestone curbing and locally fired bricks. The constantly changing slants from one curve to the next required a complicated construction technique to keep the high grade to the outside. As a result, Snake Alley consists of five half curves and two quarter curves over a total distance of 275 feet, rising 58.3 feet from Washington Street at the bottom to Columbia Street at the top for a 21% grade. The craftsmanship and soundness of materials used in the construction of Snake Alley have made it a durable street. Today, the brick paving is actually still the original that was used in its construction over a hundred years ago.

In 1974, Snake Alley was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. The homes that surround the street were standing before construction began, giving the street the appearance of an alley.  With its many twists and turns, Ripley’s Believe It, Or Not! has named Snake Alley unbelievably crooked and one of the most unbelievable, curious spots in America. Snake Alley rivals the famously crooked Lombard Street in San Francisco for the honor. Visitors are encouraged to travel this landmark and symbol of heritage, in Burlington by foot, bicycle, or motor vehicle. While I did not drive up or down Snake Alley when I visited, I saw one car attempt to drive down, and it looked like a tricky endeavor.

Snake Alley has some events and lore as well. There is a legend that the fire department used this alley to test horses. If a horse could take the curves at a gallop and still be breathing when it reached the top, the horse was deemed fit to haul fire wagons. Unfortunately, many teams of horses would run out of control or stumble over the limestone curbing, resulting in a broken limb. The street is the site of an uphill bike race, the Snake Alley Criterium, held every Memorial Day weekend, and the Snake Alley Art Fair is a Father's Day tradition.








How to Get There:



Sources and Links:
Burlington, Iowa - History, Heritage & Snake Alley
Travel Iowa - Snake Alley
Des Moines Register - Photos of Snake Alley in Burlington, the crookedest street in the world
Greater Burlington Partnership - Snake Alley

Comments

Anonymous said…
Dang I never knew there was a Lombard Street or a Vermont Street in Iowa.

Note its officially known as Snake Alley.
Anonymous said…
I guess I should have done some more homework before going to and through Burlington a few times in recent years. I also never knew it was there.

Popular posts from this blog

Hidden California State Route 710 and the Pasadena Gap in the Long Beach Freeway

Infamous and the subject of much controversy the Pasadena Gap in the Long Beach Freeway has long existed as a contentious topic regarding the completion of Interstate 710 and California State Route 710.  While the Pasadena Gap of the Long Beach Freeway effectively has been legislatively blocked the action only came after decades of controversy.  While the Pasadena Gap of the Long Beach Freeway is fairly well known what many don't know is that a small segment was actually constructed south Interstate 210 and the Foothill Freeway.  This disconnected segment of the Long Beach Freeway exists as the unsigned and largely hidden California State Route 710.  On June 29, 2022 the California Transportation Commission relinquished California State Route 710 to the city of Pasadena.  The blog cover above depicts a southward view on the completed Pasadena stub segment of the Long Beach Freeway which ends at California Boulevard.   Part 1; the history of the Pasadena Gap of the Long Beach Freewa

Deer Isle Bridge in Maine

As graceful a bridge that I ever set my eyes upon, the Deer Isle Bridge (officially known as the Deer Isle-Sedgwick Bridge) surprisingly caught my eye as I was driving around coastal Maine one Saturday afternoon. About 35 miles south of Bangor, Maine , the Deer Isle Bridge connects the Blue Hill Peninsula of Downeast Maine with Little Deer Isle over the Eggemoggin Reach on ME 15 between the towns of Sedgwick and Deer Isle . It should be noted that Little Deer Isle is connected to Deer Isle by way of a boulder lined causeway, and there is a storied regatta that takes place on the Eggemoggin Reach each summer. But the Deer Isle Bridge holds many stories, not just for the vacationers who spend part of their summer on Deer Isle or in nearby Stonington , but for the residents throughout the years and the folks who have had a hand bringing this vital link to life.   The Deer Isle Bridge was designed by David Steinman and built by the Phoenix Bridge Company of Phoenixville,

Paper Highways: Proposed US Route 66 Alternate to Las Vegas, Nevada

During February 1956 the State of Nevada in concurrence with the States of California and Arizona submitted a request to the American Association of State Highway Officials to establish US Route 66 Alternate to Las Vegas.  The proposed US Route 66 Alternate would have originated from mainline US Route 66 in Kingman Arizona and followed a multiplex of US Routes 93-466 to Las Vegas, Nevada.  From Las Vegas, Nevada the proposed US Route 66 Alternate would have multiplexed US Routes 91-466 back to mainline US Route 66 in Barstow, California.  The request to establish US Route 66 Alternate was denied during June 1956 due to it being completely multiplexed with other US Routes.  This blog will examine the timeline of the US Route 66 Alternate proposal to Las Vegas, Nevada. The history of the proposed US Route 66 Alternate to Las Vegas, Nevada On February 15, 1956, the Nevada State Highway Engineer in a letter to the American Association of State Highways Officials (AASHO) advising that six c