Greater Burlington Partnership
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West Burlington
West Burlington, Iowa

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Snake Alley

"The Crookedest Street in the World"
Located between Columbia and Washington Streets

History

The Burlington business district was built in a natural amphitheater surrounded by hills. With all commerce situated in this valley, transportation was extremely difficult for the residents living on the steep hills surrounding the downtown. Burlington citizens realized that a new and improved form of road system was needed for travel to and from the residential area and the business district.

In 1894, Snake Alley was constructed with an experimental street design. It was devised by three Germans who replicated the vineyard paths in France and Germany.

  • Charles Starker was a German-trained architect and landscape engineer who settled in Burlington partly because it reminded him of southern Germany. He took a prominent role in many of Burlington's development projects, including Crapo Park, which was built at the same time as Snake Alley.
  • William Steyh, the city engineer, was well respected for his engineering capabilities and his enthusiasm for park projects. Steyh was also involved in developing Crapo Park, as well as the street railways and stone viaduct construction.
  • George Kriechbaum, a paving contractor, was a Burlington pioneer whose parents had emigrated from Germany. He constructed the first brick paving in Burlington in 1887. The brick paving of Snake Alley is still the original brick that Kriechbaum provided in 1894.

In 1974, Snake Alley was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. The homes surrounding the street were standing before construction began, thus giving the street the appearance of an alley. 

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, it was deemed fit to haul the city's fire wagons. Unfortunately, many teams would run out of control or stumble over the limestone curbing, sometimes resulting in a broken leg.

Construction/Logistics

Snake Alley is composed of tooled, curved limestone curbing and locally-fired blueclay bricks. The constantly changing slant from one curve to the next required a complicated construction technique to keep the high grade to the outside. Snake Alley consists of five half-curves and two quarter-curves over a distance of 275 feet, rising 58.3 feet from Washington Street to Columbia.

The craftsmanship and soundness of materials used in the construction of Snake Alley have made it a durable street. Today, the brick paving is still the original used in construction more than one hundred years ago.

With its many twists and turns, Robert Ripley of Ripley’s Believe It, Or Not! named Snake Alley the “Crookedest Street in the World.” Snake Alley rivals 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 motorized vehicle.

Events

Attractions near Snake Alley

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