America’s Oldest Residential Street

In Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood near the Delaware River is a historic cobblestone street lined with 32 houses built in the Georgian and Federal styles. These houses, with their old-fashioned flower boxes, shutters, and Flemish bond brickwork, provide visitors with a glimpse of how Philadelphia looked in the early 18th century. Elfreth’s Alley is named after Jeremiah Elfreth, a blacksmith and land speculator who built and rented out many of the alley’s homes. They were often rented to fellow artisans — glassblowers, shoemakers, wagon builders, carpenters — who were the backbone of colonial Philadelphia. Throughout the 18th century, those who lived at Elfreth's Alley conducted business out of their homes. The houses ranged from two to four stories, and residents used the front room on the first floor as workplaces and shops, while the kitchen and upper levels served as private space for the family. Over the decades, the houses became derelict, but in the 1930s the Elfreth’s Alley Association was founded and they began raising funds to restore the houses. Today, Elfreth’s Alley — a National Historic Landmark — is referred to as the “nation’s oldest residential street.”