Burlington is an interesting little community with a fascinating history that sits on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River. With a number of unique sites and it’s attractive brick architecture it’s worth a visit should you find yourself in the southeastern corner of Iowa.
Traveling has always been one of my passions. I love the excitement of seeing new places and the thrill of experiencing different cultures.
Snake Alley – Burlington, Iowa
History of Burlington
Burlington sits about 80 miles south of the Quad Cities area in the southeast corner of Iowa. It is a small, quaint community of about 24,000 residents and its historic Heritage Hill District sits right on the Mississippi River. Burlington was established in 1833 following the adventures of Lt. Zebulon Pike, who was tasked with exploring and mapping out part of the Louisiana Purchase. Pike was one of two expedition parties authorized by President Thomas Jefferson, his following the Mississippi River, while the more famous duo of Lewis and Clark followed the Missouri River.
There are a few interesting things to experience in Burlington and I was surprised at the unique brick architecture and history of this community. The downtown area contains many buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places. Among them are the Capital Theater- first opened in 1937, St. Paul’s Church, the First Congregational Church, and the Harper-Ekdale House. The revitalization of downtown Burlington has created a distinctive combination of shopping, food, entertainment, and cultural events with something for everyone.
Things To See in Burlington
Harper-Ekdale House – Good Restaurant and Lounge
Mosquito Park and Overlook
Dankwardt Memorial Park
Catfish Bend Casino
Snake Alley – Burlington, Iowa
The most fascinating thing we came across in Burlington is what’s called Snake Alley. It’s not what the name implies, an alley slithering with snakes, but a very crooked, twisting road that snakes its way from the residential district at the top of the hill to the commercial district at the bottom. The road is paved with clay bricks and limestone and contains seven curves during its 58-foot drop over 275 feet. Built in 1894 the road is lined with flowers and blossoming trees and makes for a short yet pretty decent. In addition to driving down Snake Alley, you can also walk it or test your biking skills by attempting to ride up it. There is even an annual bike race called the Snake Alley Criterium that races up the quad busting 21% grade.
For a truly unique experience in Burlington, you can even stay right on Snake Alley in the Snake Alley Inn, a 19th-century Victorian home that is available for rent. And believe it or not, Ripleys designated Snake Alley as “one of the most unbelievable, curious spots in America” and featured it as the first of its 100 “Odd Spots” across America.
Snake Ally will remind visitors of San Francisco’s famous Lombard Street, which has eight hairpin turns and is a little steeper at a 27% grade. However, Snake Alley has tighter turns, which helps support its claim as the “crookedest street in the world”.
Good Restaurant – Harper-Ekdale House
Good Restaurant and Lounge
In the heart of downtown Burlington is a wonderful place called the Good Restaurant. Located in the historic Harper-Ekdale House and built in1852, it is the oldest stone home in Burlington. The house was purchased and restored by owners TJ and Mel Widbin in late 2018 and opened in August of 2019. The restoration maintained the historic integrity of the house while bringing to fruition the vision of TJ and Mel to create an experience of good food with good friends in a wonderfully good atmosphere. The outdoor patio is the perfect setting for a relaxing dinner or a group event. We attended a wedding rehearsal dinner at Good, and it was an amazing evening. From the second-floor balcony of the house, you get a wonderful view of the Great River Bridge, which spans the Mississippi River. The second floor is quite unique in that it’s more of a guest play area with arcade games, a library, comfy couches, and the very popular ball pit. It’s a great place to relax and have some fun after a delicious dinner.
Another spot in Burlington for great views of the Mississippi River is Mosquito Park. Located just north of downtown Burlington this small park, really more of an overlook, offers scenic views from a bluff high above the river. The overlook is a short walk from the on-street parking, so you won’t even have to work up a sweat for these amazing views. In winter you might even catch a glimpse of a bald eagle soaring above or fishing in the river. And in case you’re wondering, the name comes from the park’s tiny size and not due to the fact that it’s overrun with mosquitos.
View of the Mississippi River from Mosquito Park
Google – Dr Mohammad Shamsuddoha
There are a few other parks in Burlington worth visiting including Dankwardt Memorial Park and Crapo Park. Both are located south of the city center and are adjacent to one another. Crapo Park spans 85 acres and is situated along the Mississippi River. It has a botanical garden and an arboretum and is supposedly the site where the American flag was first raised on what would become Iowa back in 1805 during Zebulon Pike’s exploration up the Mississippi River.
Catfish Bend Casino
FunCity and Catfish Bend Casino
For those of you interested in taking your chances at gambling there is the Catfish Bend Casino, which is located just to the west of downtown Burlington. The casino is part of the FunCity Resort entertainment complex that includes a water park, bowling alley, indoor electric go-karts, and a huge arcade. There are also several hotel and dining options available in and around the complex. If you are coming to Burlington with kids, you may want to plan a day here to help burn off some of that youthful energy. It’s a fun place for kids of all ages and the casino provides a little entertainment for the adults as well.
Our short two-day visit to Burlington afforded just enough time to enjoy the beautiful wedding festivities and spend a little time exploring Burlington. If you find yourself in this corner of Iowa allow some time to check out this historic, charming community on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Great River Bridge from the second floor balcony of the Good Restaurant
Number 44 in My Quest to Visit All 50 States
One of the things that our visit to Burlington accomplished, other than the primary purpose of attending the wedding, was that it checked off another state in my bucket list quest to visit all fifty states. Living here in New England I really thought that getting to Iowa would have to wait until I was retired from work and able to wander the country at will. Certainly, then we would be able to check off Iowa and a few other difficult to get to states. So, a big thank you goes out to Richard and Danielle and the entire Dybdahl and Harvey families for including us in their wedding festivities, and for their warm hospitality during our visit.
Good owner TJ (Center) with the happy couple, Richard and Danielle.
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© 2022 Bill De Giulio