Preserving Elfreth's Alley

It's hard to imagine. America was still gripped by the Great Depression in 1934, when one woman inspired her neighbors to undertake a bold group effort: preserve a little street and its seemingly insignificant little houses. The rest of the story, as the saying goes, would be history.

Dorothy Ottey launched the effort to preserve historic Elfreth's Alley, the small street where she ran a lunch counter for workers from nearby factories and offices. Historic preservation was many decades old in the 1930s, but what Ottey proposed was a radical new historic endeavor: preserve the story of everyday people and the small, vernacular architecture where they lived. Up to that time, most preservation efforts sought to tell the story of great white men. Elfreth's Alley told the story of early American artisans, craftspeople, and workers.

Preservation achievements and plans

Roof restoration on houses 124 and 126

In Spring 2007 we restored the historic cedar shingle roofs of 124 and 126 Elfreth's Alley.

Elfreth's Alley Scrapbook conserved

When the Elfreth's Alley Association was founded in 1934 one of the early members, Ms. Eliza Newkirk Rodgers, started keeping a scrapbook. She cut out newspaper articles, collected photographs, stories from magazines, pamphlets, and other ephemera from the early years of the Association's history.