Historic Downtown Burlington
With buildings dating from the 1840s to the present day, Burlington is a treasure trove of historic architecture. Few cities this size can boast such a remarkable legacy of significant structures. Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Victorian, Prairie, Classical Revival, Art Deco, and International Style buildings of note grace the downtown. Our rich architectural heritage is admired by visitors from around the world.
Burlington was the second capitol of the Wisconsin Territory and the first capitol of the Iowa Territory. Its location on the Mississippi made it an important point of commerce, which increased greatly after the Civil War with the advent of the railroad. This namesake city of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy and later the Burlington Northern was a rail hub for years and is still serviced by a main line of the BNSF Railroad, which winds its way down the Hawkeye Creek valley into downtown. With transportation at hand, Burlington became a center of lumber milling, manufacturing, and distribution. Many of these large buildings still stand in the new Manufacturing and Wholesale Historic District from Valley Street south to Elm.
Of special note is the great concentration of steeples and towers gracing the skyline of downtown. The spires of 19th and early 20th century church and municipal buildings form a picturesque "steeplescape" unlike that of any other town. Burlington is also home to Snake Alley, "the crookedest street in the world." Winding from the Heritage Hill Historic District to downtown, this one block stretch of N. Sixth Street is paved in local brick and contains five half-curves and two quarter-curves over 275 feet. Downtown Burlington's most beloved landmark, it is the site of the Snake Alley Criterium bike races in May and the Snake Alley Art Fair in June. Driving down Snake Alley from Columbia Street is a rite of passage for visitors and daring local motorists alike!
Jefferson Street, running perpendicular to the Mississippi, is downtown Burlington's principal retail and commercial street. It is lined with a variety of buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s, almost all of which are in the Downtown Commercial Historic District. A number of downtown buildings, including City Hall, commercial buildings, residences, and churches, are in the Heritage Hill Historic District from Washington to High Street. Downtown is also home to several buildings individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including 212 Jefferson, the Burlington Apartments, the 1944 CB&Q depot on S. Main Street, and the Capitol Theater, an Art Deco landmark at 211 N. Third.