Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Brickmaking and Brickmakers

Brick Streetscape, Elfreth’s Alley

A color photograph of a row house-lined alley.

Elfreth’s Alley in Philadelphia preserves a brick streetscape of the colonial era. (Photograph for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia by Jamie Castagnoli)

Elfreth’s Alley in Philadelphia preserves a brick streetscape of the colonial era. The street, which has existed for three centuries as a residential enclave, was not included in William Penn’s original plans for Philadelphia. Demand for land in proximity to the Delaware River erased Penn’s dream of a bucolic country town composed of wide streets. As Philadelphia became a bustling city, artisans and merchants purchased or rented the in-demand property close to the ports where goods and materials arrived daily. By 1700, most of the population of Philadelphia settled within four blocks of the Delaware River. This led to overcrowding, and landowners recognized that tradesmen needed alternate routes to the river through the crowded streets Penn had laid out decades earlier. Landowners Arthur Wells and John Gilbert combined their properties between Front and Second Streets to open Elfreth’s Alley, named after silversmith Jeremiah Elfreth, as a cart path in 1706. (Photograph by Jamie Castagnoli for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)

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