Elfreth’s Alley: A stroll down memory lane

July 1, 2020/Jonathan Rundle/0 Comments

Dating back to 1703, Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest continuously occupied residential street in the country. In a city overflowing with cultural relevance and history, this is one of the only spots where you can feel immersed in 18th-century charm.

All of the other historic sites in the city seem to be ever encroached upon by the steel and glass of contemporary architecture. Here at Elfreth’s Alley, you can truly slip away to the past in a very authentic way.

Elfreth's Alley

It’s a popular spot for good reason. This couple has come here to take their wedding photos.

Wedding photos Elfreth's Alley

The 32 homes on the street maintain their 17-1800s appearance. The entire alley is a National Historic Landmark.

Some homes add two more designations; the National Register of Historic Places and the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

Philadelphia Historical Commission Plaque

No 139, the first one below on the left, is the oldest home on the block dating to 1703. It is one of those homes with the three historic honors. The Declaration of Independence, signed just up the road at Independence Hall, was to come into being 73 years after this home was built.

Elfreth's Alley

Elfreth’s Alley Association

In the 1900s, the alley found itself surrounded by factories and facing demolition. The Elfreth’s Alley Association, founded in 1934, managed to save the block and operates the Elfreth’s Alley Museum at 124-126 Elfreth’s Alley. You can find it under the sign that says “Windsor Chair Maker’s Home.”

Elfreth's Alley Welcome signElfreth's Alley Plaque

The homes here are those of the 18th-century working class. The elite did not live here. To see those homes, which are stunning, you’d have to head to Society Hill. One of those homes was used at the Winthorpe/Valentine residence in Trading Places.

Here, today’s American flag lives alongside period flags like the British Union Jack, the British East India Company Ensign, The Bedford Flag, and Betsy Ross’ flag. The Betsy Ross home isn’t far from here, either. Don’t miss it!

Elfreth's Alley American Flag Wreath

I love the little details of these historic homes.

Letters Mail slot on Elfreth's Alley

Some of these homes even have privies (outside bathroom) in the outside courtyard. Those facilities are not in use today, at least I hope not.

No trace of a privy here, just a quiet little off-alley getaway.

Elfreth's Alley Courtyard

Bladen’s Court

This view comes from Bladen’s Court looking toward Elfreth’s Alley. This small alley, built by two neighbors, is to access to their backyards. The neighbors were William Rush and his brother-in-law Abraham Carlisle.

Elfreth's Alley from Bladen's Court

The two men held very different political beliefs. Rush was a prominent patriot why Carlisle allied himself with the British. When the British occupied the city in 1777 Carlisle became the keeper of a British-controlled gate along Front Street. Carlisle was arrested when the Americans reclaimed the city and was hung as a Tory in 1778. Tough luck, Abe.

Why Bladen’s Court? A later owner of one of the properties was named William Bladen in the 1800s. It just stuck.

Visit Elfreth’s Alley

The alley is open 24 hours a day. If you want to include a visit to the Elfreth’s Alley Museum, check their website for operating times.

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