Snake Alley was constructed in 1894 as an experimental street design. The intention was to provide a more direct link between the downtown business district and the neighborhood shopping area located on North Sixth Street.
Working together, three public-spirited German immigrants conceived and carried out the idea of a winding hillside street, reminiscent of 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 immigrated 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.
Local newspapers proclaimed the street "a triumph in practical engineering." The city had considered constructing more streets in this same manner, but the switchback design proved to be less successful for horse carriages than the city had anticipated.
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.
Ripley's Believe It Or Not titled Snake Alley "The Crookedest Street In The World."
The alley is composed of tooled, curved limestone curbing and locally-fired blueclay bricks. The constantly changing slant from one curve to the next necessitated 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. It stands today as a singular landmark in Burlington and a reflection of the city's ethnic heritage.