Elfreth's Alley

7 of 15

Elfreth's Alley

Historic map of a block near the Philadelphia wharves

Detail from map of Philadelphia by Peter Varle (1802).

Elfreth's Alley Today

Elfreth's Alley: well-kept historic brick buildings

© 2005 Steve Zettler

Today the 33 homes lining both sides of Elfreth's Alley constitute the oldest continually occupied residential street in America.

Stylish Home

A well-kept colonial style building made of black and red brick

© 2005 Steve Zettler

One of the more stylish homes in Elfreth's Alley, with its brick facade in Flemish bond style (compare George Logan's "Stenton").

Lewis very probably traveled Elfreth's Alley and streets like it on shopping trips to his suppliers. Though it has been in continuous occupancy longer than any other residential street in America, it was the kind of narrow lane reminiscent of crowded London that William Penn had hoped to avoid in the broad streets of his "greene Country Towne." Almost from the beginning, the need for workplaces and modest city dwellings close to the waterfront sliced into the original block plan.

A little over a block from Christ Church, the street now known as Elfreth's Alley began about 1702 with a building owned by Arthur Wells, a blacksmith, and John Gilbert. Today it bears the name of a later property owner, a prosperous blacksmith named Jeremiah Elfreth. An alley was a narrow passage or walkway, whereas streets such as those pictured in William Birch's engravings were, by definition, wide enough to accommodate horse-drawn wagons and carriages. Elfreth's Alley connects Front Street with Second Street between Arch Street and Race Street.

A quaint, quiet byway today, it was, when Lewis trod its cobblestones, bustling with the workings, comings and goings of artisans, tradespeople and, since the port was but a block away, sailors and sea-captains. Many of the houses were one room wide and three rooms high, with a kitchen in the basement, a living room on the ground floor, and a bedroom upstairs.


Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service, Challenge Cost Share Program