Elfreth's Alley in Philadelphia - Part 2

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Elfreth's Alley in Philadelphia - Part 2


In the 18th century, it was often common for houses to double as businesses, with offices or shops on the first floor of a house, and the family living on the upper floors.

Because of this, the older houses along the alley have their entrances at ground level, while the houses built in the 19th century have their entrances raised up a few steps above street level.

Over the last 300 years, the houses along Elfreth’s Alley have changed hands many times, but the street has always remained home to dozens of families. Facing pressure from the expanding city, the Elfreth’s Alley Association was formed in 1934 to help preserve these historic homes from getting swallowed by development.

Fortunately, the homes along the alley were protected from developers, and today, Elfreth’s Alley is one of Philadelphia’s few remaining examples of 18th-century working class housing.

If you want to learn a bit more about the street’s history, there is an interesting, but rather small museum dedicated to the past residents of the street. It is located in the middle of the street, having taken over two of the oldest houses in the alley. You can only see the ground floor which is divided up as below.

Parlor or Front Room: - This room served as the dress shop for two mantua makers, Sarah Melton and Mary Smith who starting in business in 1762. They entertained customers with tea and small items while talking about the fashions of the day. Some of their finished dresses may have been on display with samples of fabrics and patterns available so that customer could see the quality of their work.

Kitchen -The kitchen is presented as a typical 18th century kitchen. Some of the tools look similar to today’s however cooking was an all day, labour intensive process. Since Sarah and Mary would have spent most of their time running their business they might have opted to do something common today. That was to bring in a 'take-out'. Prepared foods from the nearby markets on High Street, interestingly now called Market Street, would have been a good option for busy craftspeople.

Garden - Residents would have used their backyards as extensions to their workshops, for gardening to grow some vegetables and of course for their outhouse or privy.

For an even better look into the history of Elfreth’s Alley, visit during one of the yearly open houses, when many of the homes along the street are open to visitors.

Continued in part 3

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Page added on: 8 July 2018
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