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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Hidden History - Elfreth's Alley



While touring Philadelphia recently, we discovered a little street tucked away from some of the other sights, called Elfreth's Alley. This narrow cobble stoned alley, is lined each side with brick houses that were built between the 1720's and 1830's. In fact, it is "Our nation's oldest residential street" and it has remained inhabited since colonial times.



Elfreth's Alley wasn't originally included in William Penn's plans for Philadelphia's "greene country town." As the city prospered, however, waterfront properties were purchased and rented by the many middle class merchants, tradesmen, and artisans for convenience of conducting business. By 1700, most of the population of Philadelphia had settled withing four blocks of the Delaware River. Overcrowding was an issue.




In 1706, landowners Arthur Wells and John Gilbert recognized the need and decided to combine their properties between Front and Second Streets and opened up a cart path. At the time the Delaware River was wider and flowed right next to this area. The alley was named after silversmith and land speculator, Jeremiah Elfreth, who built and rented out many of the homes there. Elfreth's Alley residents included Dolly Madison, Betsy Ross, and a friend of Ben Franklin, William Maugridge, whom he frequently visited there.



The brick row houses found at Elfreth's Alley are called a "Trinity,"and many can be found in Philadelphia. They are sometimes called "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" houses. Each home has only one room on each floor. There is often a basement kitchen, a first floor that was typically used as a shop, narrow stairway, and family living areas on the upper levels. Although there is no yard in the front of the home, there is some space in the rear for a garden and perhaps the keeping of a cow and a few chickens. There are gates between homes for access to the rear, as seen in these photos. 




We did get to peek inside one of the homes that is used as a museum for a Windsor chair shop, and it is quite compact. It amazes me that sometimes people took in boarders, such as sailors, and that families that actually lived and worked in these homes.

This was the original tiny house movement!



 

New Englander Carla Gade writes from her Victorian home in central Maine. With ten books in print she enjoys bringing her tales to life with historically authentic settings and characters. An avid reader, amateur genealogist, photographer, and house plan hobbyist, Carla's great love (next to her family) is historical research. Though you might find her tromping around an abandoned homestead, an old fort, or interviewing a docent at an historical museum, it's easier to connect with her online.

https://www.facebook.com/CarlaOlsonGade

6 comments:

  1. Carla, I really enjoyed your post on Elfreth's Alley. It is amazing that it remains inhabited today. The rooms sound a bit on the small size, I wonder what the dimensions are.
    Blessings, Tina


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  2. I'd never heard of this. What a cool find! Exploring Philly is on my bucket list.

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  3. Very interesting, Carla! Thank you for your first-hand account. Kathleen ~ Lane Hill House

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  4. This is truly a little gem. Thanks for reminding me. I also loved Alexandria VA (and Boston of course) but I don't think I'll ever face Philly traffic again. I'm not as brave as I used to be.
    thanks for sharing, Carla. You had such a great trip!

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  5. Thanks for this interesting tidbit. I love history!

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  6. It was so neat spending time in this area. Surrounded by these rows of houses just gave you the feeling what it would have been like being there in colonial times. It was such a beautiful place, too. It really felt like a little trip back in time.

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