Burlington to the Rescue

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Boxing in the Heartland, Day 5

BURLINGTON, Iowa — Traveling from Quincy, IL into Iowa this afternoon, we were enjoying the cool and overcast day with the temperature hovering around 50°, wondering where we would end the day.  Our plan had been to wander into Iowa and drive toward Minnesota until we were ready to stop for the day.  
By mid-afternoon, we reached a location where we needed to make a decision whether to continue due north toward Cedar Rapids or northeasterly in the direction of Davenport.  Since we didn't have strong feelings about either route we decided to just investigate which city had hotels with more positive reviews.
(photo from American Wind Energy Association)
That's when political reality hit us smack in the face.  We were in Iowa, like all the Republican presidential candidates and their staffs and the media mob that follows them.  Hotels in Cedar Rapids were fully booked.  Same for Iowa City.  Davenport?  No rooms.  Waterloo?  Uh-uh.  With candidates kissing babies and shaking hands all over the state, there was no room at the inn for a couple of apolitical letterboxers.  Finally, we tried Burlington and found a room for the night.  With a shrinking population, this river town must not be high on the priority list for visiting politicians.

Negative growth must also be behind the sell-off of historic churches in the town that has billed itself as the "City of Steeples."  We saw at least two large old churches downtown sporting For Sale signs.

Church for Sale
The sign for this one indicated "For Sale by Owner."  Dial a Prayer to make an offer?  Just a couple of blocks away another older church was under extensive reconstruction.

Burlington's Snake Alley vies with Lombard Street in San Francisco for the title of "crookedest" street.  The steep elevation of Heritage Hill, a residential area near downtown, made it all but impossible for pedestrians or horses to travel down the hill to the business district below.  In 1894, three German immigrants designed and constructed a winding street as a shortcut from the residential district to downtown shops.

Snake Alley
To improve horses' footing as they descended the hill, bricks were laid at an angle. Getting horses back up the alley presented more of a challenge than the designers anticipated, and a loss of control at the top occurred frequently.  For this reason, Snake Alley was made a one-way street, with all traffic heading downhill, and it remains so today.

Near Burlington we came across the unique Fort Madison Toll Bridge.  Unlike most of the Mississippi River bridges we have been seeing, the Fort Madison is not a cable-stayed bridge.  Rather it is swing span bridge.  Car traffic travels on the upper deck, while rail traffic occupies the lower deck.

Fort Madison Toll Bridge (Fort Madison, Iowa)
The bridge is owned by the Burlington Northern railway, and about 100 trains cross it per day.  According to Coast Guard regulations, however, river traffic has the right-of-way over rail and automobile traffic.  Once the moveable span swings open, a typical tow of 15 barges takes about 20 minutes to get through.  

DAILY STATS:
  • Started in Quincy, IL; ended in Burlington, IA
  • Miles driven:  118
  • States:  3 (IL, MO, IA )
  • Letterboxes:  1 found
  • Gas:  $3.299 (West Quincy, MO)
  • Hotels with no vacancy:  16
  • Width of Mississippi River at Quincy:  0.8 miles
More Photos from Today

Downtown Burlington, IA
Cable-stayed bridge, Quincy IL
Quincy Museum, Quincy, IL