Philadelphia‘s Elfreth’s Alley is considered to be the oldest residential street in the United States. The street has been inhabited since 1702. But you could be forgiven for easily walking right past this charming and historic stretch. I know I’ve driven by it for years and not even realized what I was missing!
Visiting Elfreth’s Alley
The Alley is located between 2nd and Front Streets and Arch and Quarry Streets in the shadow of the Ben Franklin Bridge. It’s just around the corner from Betsy Ross’ house and not too far from the Museum of the American Revolution. It’s set back a little from 2nd Street so it’s easy to miss. But find the path and take the journey. The narrow cobblestone alley with its 32 homes is a postcard perfect image. Indeed, there’s even a British union jack hanging from one home, hinting at the storied past of this neighborhood (and the city).
Because Elfreth’s Alley is a residential block it is, quite literally, open to the public. There is no cost to wander through. The only price is to show a little respect for the residents of the homes who, no doubt, have to put up with a lot of tourists peering in their antique windows. And right in the heart of the alley is the Elfreth’s Alley Museum. The Museum offers private tours for a fee as well as an overview of the street.
Elfreth’s Alley has been recognized as a National Historic Landmark since 1966. The homes are all built in the Federal or Georgian style. It’s fascinating to think how the homes have changed since the 18th century.
The Alley was originally a short-cut to the Delaware River that was created when two landowners combined their properties. The cut-through was named after Jeremiah Elfreth, a silversmith.
By the 20th century the Alley was in need of some TLC. The Elfreth’s Alley Association (EAA) was formed in 1934. This helped to fight further deterioration and set the path for rejuvenating the historic block for today. The EAA have some really fascinating information on their website, including historic photos and blueprints for the homes. Even if you can’t see inside, you can get a glimpse!
If you’re in Old City, do yourself a favor and stop by the quaint Elfreth’s Alley for a stroll. It doesn’t cost a thing and it’s a chance to have a reflective moment.