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Monday, June 25, 2012

Elfreth’s Alley, the Oldest Street in America

This is the oldest (and still inhabited) street in US. Elfreth’s Alley  dates to before the United States were even imagined. It was created in 1702 after two local blacksmiths pooled pieces of their land to form the alleyway. Ben Franklin lived there, while Betsy Ross - credited with making the first American flag - paid a visit. The oldest house dates to 1725. By the early 20th century Elfreth’s Alley was run-down and faced potential demolition. But it escaped the wrecking ball and is a National Historic Landmark District. Residents open their houses and gardens every June to the public.

Butchers, bakers, candlestick-makers... During the 18th century, most businesses were home-based. Over the years, grocers, shoemakers, cabinetmakers, tailors and others worked out of the first floor of their Elfreth’s Alley houses. That changed during the 19th century Industrial Revolution, when people worked in neighborhood factories. the Alley preserves three centuries of evolution through its old-fashioned flower boxes, shutters, Flemish bond brickwork and other architectural details. Two adjacent houses, built in 1755, are now a museum and are open to the public. Tiny by modern standards, the two homes were considered average size in their day. During the 19th century, eight families (27 people) shared the two homes, a situation not uncommon for the era.
Named for blacksmith and property-owner Jeremiah Elfreth, Elfreth’s Alley was home to the 18th century artisans and trades-people who were the backbone of colonial Philadelphia. Three hundred years later, the houses on this itty-bitty, cobblestone street are still hot properties.

I walked once through Elfreth's Alley, without knowing its history. It was on a Sunday afternoon, I had come to Philly for a day, just to feel the taste of it, to let me charmed.



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