It sounds somewhat mystical, a fairy road or thoroughfare straight out of Harry Potter: Elfreth’s Alley. The Alley is a very real place, set in Old City, Philadelphia. Its claim to fame is being the longest continually-inhabited city street in the United States. There’s thirty-two homes on the Alley, the oldest of which was built in 1728. Due to its impressive history, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Geographically, Elfreth’s Alley is positioned between North 2nd Street and North Front Street, in the block between Arch and Race Streets.
The Alley took its name from Jeremiah Elfreth, an 18th-century blacksmith and property owner. Elfreth’s contemporary neighbors were tradespeople: shipwrights, glass blowers, builders of furniture, and jewelers who worked with silver and pewter. The cobblestone streets and Georgian- and Federal style homes that still mark the Alley today were standards of the time. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, industry brought changes to Elfreth’s Alley. Homes became the fronts for factories, and the demographics of the neighborhood changed. The Alley was inhabited largely by immigrants, particularly the Irish.
In 1934, the Elfreth’s Alley Association (EAA) was created to preserve the street’s history and keep its structures intact. Thanks to the EAA, the street was saved from the wrecking ball. Additionally, the street had somewhere along the line been designated as the 100 block of Cherry Street. The Association lobbied to have the original name, Elfreth’s Alley, restored. Today, the Alley is preserved as a tourist attraction and, along with Society Hill, a living example of 18th-century housing. For visitors, there is Elfreth’s Alley Museum, located in 124-126 Elfreth’s Alley, which used to be the home of dressmakers. Now it is a place for tourists to learn about the Alley’s history and former residents.
Annual events on Elfreth’s Alley include “Fête Day” in early June, as well as celebrations of the Fourth of July, Halloween, and Oktoberfest. The houses are lit beautifully for the Christmas season each year as well.