A quick google search will reveal a number of contenders claiming to be the oldest street in USA built by Europeans. Philadelphia’s Elfreth’s Alley probably trumps all claims.
Indeed, this little nondescript alley in a quiet neighbourhood of Philadelphia has the distinction of being one the oldest continuously inhabited street in USA built by European conquistadors. When I read about this place, I assumed that it would be a museum-type place, open only for visitors. Contrary to my intuition however, actual people live in this area, in old heritage buildings and new refurbished ones. Some of the houses have been converted into museums and it is very interesting to see the structures from inside.
The Elfreth’s Alley Association (EAA) strives to preserve the alley’s historic structures and has fought to save the street from being demolished, renamed or taken over by other kinds of “development” efforts. The alley lies in the old ‘historic’ part of Philadelphia and has survived cycles of urban renewal and decay that have plagued the city. Now the alley is a tourist attraction and a happy outcome of extensive preservation efforts.
The place is a great spot to checkout 18th-century working-class housing stock. The alley was home to shipwrights, blacksmiths, jewelers, carpenters, printers and craftsmen of all sorts. The earliest dated house was built in 1702 and some of the buildings (now converted to museums) gives us a chance to see how people lived back then. Being close to the city’s waterfront and docks, this neighbourhood was a prime location in the old city.
Summer is a busy time and the tourist season peaks around the July 4 weekend. I couchsurfed in Philly in February and a friend of my host who works as a tour guide gave us an enthusiastic tour of the place. It’s for reasons like these that I absolutely love Couch surfing!