One of the oldest continually occupied streets in America, a stroll down Philadelphia’s Elfreth’s Alley is a step back in time.
History of the Alley
Elfreth’s Alley, located in Center City Philadelphia, was established in 1702 when two men combined their property to create a small subdivision of row homes at the site. Most of the homes that still remain on the old street were built between 1728 and 1836, and an estimated three thousand people have lived there throughout the centuries.
Throughout much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, artists and craftsmen lived in the houses that lined the alley. Many of them established businesses and operated them from their homes. Records show that during the Industrial Revolution, many of the houses on Elfreth’s Alley were home to immigrants from various parts of Europe who came to work in America’s many new factories.
By the twentieth century, unfortunately, the historic street was in disrepair and the city seriously considered knocking down the homes several times, particularly to make room for new roadways. Before World War II, however, concerned citizens organized an association that has served to protect the National Historic Landmark through the years and has helped raise funds to renovate the homes. Today, all but one of the homes is privately owned. One home serves as a museum for visitors. All have been lovingly restored.
Touring Elfreth’s Alley
Because the homes on Elfreth’s Alley are owned by private parties, you can’t go inside, but you can certainly admire the colonial architecture of these fine homes, and homeowners don’t mind if you take pictures.
If you wander over to House 126, however, you can visit the Elfreth’s Alley Museum, originally built and owned by the alley’s namesake, Jeremiah Elfreth, who was a blacksmith. A guided tour of the home, restored to its eighteenth-century splendor, takes about thirty minutes, or visitors can tour on their own. Brochures available at the museum provide information about the history of the other homes on the street as well.
If you’re lucky, you’ll catch one of Elfreth’s Alley’s occasional special events, such as concerts and special demonstrations by local artisans.