The Elfreth's Alley Association
The Elfreth's Alley is a 501(c)3 nonprofit educational organization that uses the Alley as a lens to interpret the lives, lifestyles, and livelihoods of ordinary Philadelphians from the time of the City's founding through to the present day. The Association preserves the Elfreth's Alley National Historic Landmark District as a rare example of a once commonplace working class community from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
EAA operates the Elfreth’s Alley Museum located in Houses 124 and 126, a pair of rowhouses built in 1762 by Jeremiah Elfreth. The Museum interprets 300 years of daily life for the ordinary Philadelphians who helped to build and sustain the city. More than 250,000 individuals visit the Alley every year and nearly 45,000 of those people visit the Museum Shop. Nearly 7,000 people, including 2,000 school children tour the Museum annually. In addition to providing public tours 256 days each year, EAA sponsors two open house events that attract nearly 1,500 attendees each year. EAA also partners with neighboring institutions to provide additional programs for special groups like the Girl Scouts, Elderhostel, and KOA.
The Elfreth's Alley Association was founded in 1934 by a group of concerned residents, neighbors, and citizens from across the region to preserve the historic buildings on Elfreth’s Alley. A long period of high population density, frequent turnover, low earnings, and absentee landlords throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries left the Alley in a state of physical and economic decline at the start of the Great Depression.
In 1932 one resident, Dorothy Ottey, opened The Hearthstone, a small tearoom, in her leased home at 115 Elfreth’s Alley to provide lunches for local businessmen (including her husband). After hearing that two of the Alley’s buildings were slated for demolition, Ottey became fascinated by the old houses and began conducting research about the buildings and their 18th century occupants. She organized a small group of volunteers to begin researching the properties, sponsoring events, and providing tours of her home in an effort to raise awareness of this relic of Philadelphia’s 18th-century heritage. The Association incorporated in 1943 and took over the tearoom in 115 as their headquarters. They began leasing, acquiring, and restoring threatened properties to prevent their demolition and preserve the streetscape.
In 1937 EAA partnered with the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks to purchase House 126, which had been condemned a year earlier. EAA persuaded Mayor Clarke to rescind the demolition order on the condition that they would restore the building and find for it an appropriate use. The Association labored for nearly 20 years to raise funds for the restoration, and opened the building as a Museum in 1962. The restoration work was supervised by Penelope Hartshorne (Batcheler), the only woman at that time working for the National Park Service on the restoration of Independence Hall. Four years later, in 1966, EAA restored House 124 as a leased residence.
In 1957 the Association began a massive advocacy campaign when the Federal Highway Administration proposed to demolish nearly half of the Alley for the construction of I-95. The Association delivered nearly 12,000 signatures on 25 yards of parchment to City Hall urging the government to spare the Alley from the wrecking ball. The effort was successful, and in 1963 the Alley was designated a National Historic Landmark District, three years before the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act compelled government agencies to consider historic buildings when planning their projects.