Monday, September 21, 2009

Entry 1: Old City

Old City is one of the nation’s most historic areas dating back to William Penn’s settlement in the late 17th century. With historical monuments and locations such as Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross House, the Ben Franklin House, and Elfreth’s Alley, this area is a prime tourist attraction and home to some of the city’s wealthiest. Surrounded by the Front and 6th Streets and Walnut and Vine Streets, the area is categorized by cobblestone streets and old picturesque colonial townhouses. While not geographically the center, Old City is the heartbeat of Philadelphia because it is where the city first began.

Elfreth’s Alley, located between 2nd and Front Streets, is often referred to as the oldest continuously occupied residential street in the country, dating back to the early 1700s. While today it is a predominantly white upper-middle class neighborhood, it was once a working class area filled with blacksmiths, glassblowers, shipwrights, and other craftsmen. Named after Jeremiah Elfreth, a local blacksmith, the area was once the center for shipping goods to the North and South via 2nd Street. After many years of prosperity and ethnic rotation, the area suffered a period of economic decline. However, the Elfreth’s Alley Association was founded in 1934 to bring the homes back to their original historic state. Currently, Elfreth’s Alley features a close-knit community and strong tourist base, all with the common goal of preserving the alley.

Independence Hall, easily the most recognizable historic Philadelphia landmark, was once the home of the Liberty Bell and the Second Continental Congress. Located on Chestnut Street between 5th and 6th Streets, the building is a main tourist attraction, drawing thousands of visitors each year. The hall is a part of Independence Square and its historical context radiates throughout the rest of Old City, serving as one of the neighborhood’s major focal points. Unlike Washington DC landmarks, Independence Hall dates back to the beginning of our nation’s history, thus solidifying its national and local appeal.

While a predominantly white area, Old City is usually categorized by its historical appeal and colonial architecture than the cultural background of its residents. Though there does not seem to be the same unity as in other neighborhoods, the people of Old City are bound by their interests in preserving the area’s historic nature. This supports the claim that the people of a neighborhood must share similar beliefs and values. As seen from Elfreth’s Alley’s history, the residents of Old City have changed over time. Originally founded by the working man, it currently features white upper-middle class citizens. It is important to emphasize that Old City is really the nation’s neighborhood in that it has a strong tourist base. Without this interest, it can be said that this region would not be thriving like it is today. Old City will continue to thrive due to the cohesive efforts of preservation.

Text Written by Carmen Emmi and Barbara Cushing

Photos Credited to Sarah Fry


(2009). History of Elfreth's Alley. Retrieved from

(2009). Elfreth's Alley neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (PA), 19106 detailed profile. Retrieved from

Van Allen, Peter (2004, August 6). Elfreth's Alley: Living on the oldest street. Philadelphia Business Journal, Retrieved from

(2009, August 30). History and Culture: Welcome to Independence. Retrieved from


A city neighborhood is usually defined as an area which includes people of the same economic status, beliefs or cultures. In Philadelphia, it seems that this belief rings true. While this does provide strong diversity due to the vast amount of culture, it unfortunately paves the way for segregated communities. While the word “segregation” could imply tension between races, it seems in Philadelphia that this seems to apply more to economic status. In our analysis of five major neighborhoods in Philadelphia- Old City, Chinatown, South Philadelphia, West Philadelphia and Germantown- our team will shed light on these contrasting areas to show how unique and separate they truly are.