Tuesday, March 8, 2011

More crooked than a Chicago politician: Burlington’s Snake Alley

It’s been called the Crookedest Street in the World—although some would say that distinction belongs to San Francisco’s Lombard Street—and it goes by the name of Snake Alley.

Located in the historic Mississippi River town of Burlington, Iowa (located about 48 miles northwest of Macomb, Ill.), Snake Alley was built in 1894. Its winding design was an attempt to construct a road down a very steep hillside in order to link the downtown business district to the North Sixth Street neighborhood shopping area. It was hoped that such a street would be safe for horse-drawn carriages.

The man behind the street was Charles Starker, a German-educated architect and landscape engineer, who came up with the street’s curvy design. George Kriechbaum, a prominent local paving contractor, constructed the road, which is made of tooled, curved limestone curbing and locally kilned, blueclay bricks.

Because of the hill’s steepness—it rises nearly 60 feet from Washington Street to Columbia Street—the alley has five half-curves and two quarter-curves spread over a distance of some 275 feet.

Ironically, because of the number of tight hairpin turns on the street, it didn’t prove to be particularly safe for horse carriages, which tipped on the steep curves. But over the years, Snake Alley did evolve into a popular local landmark that today attracts thousands of people eager to navigate its twists and turns.

Snake Alley is open for vehicle traffic between May and October, when the brick pavement isn’t too slick from snow or rain.

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