In this episode, Stacy learns about Elfreth's Alley. Located in Philadelphia, Elfreth's Alley is the nation's oldest residential street. Stacy chats with Ted Maust, director of the Elfreth's Alley Museum, and long-time residents of the alley, Rob and Sue...
In this episode, Stacy learns about Elfreth's Alley. Located in Philadelphia, Elfreth's Alley is the nation's oldest residential street. Stacy chats with Ted Maust, director of the Elfreth's Alley Museum, and long-time residents of the alley, Rob and Sue Kettell.
Also, Bill from Enon Hall is back to help Stacy answer a listener question about adding modern amenities, such as kitchens and baths, into old houses.
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Rob & Sue Kettell
Historic Reenactment Fun on Elfreth's Alley
Thank you for listening to True Tales From Old Houses.
Until next time,
Stacy Grinsfelder 0:00
On today's show Bill from Enon Hall, is back to help me answer a listener question about adding modern amenities, such as kitchens and baths into our old houses. Also, you'll learn about Elfreth's Alley, the nation's oldest residential street located in Philadelphia. My guests are Ted Maust, the director of the museum and longtime residents of Elfreth's Alley, Sue and Rob Kettell. But first,
Stacy Grinsfelder 0:27
I'm Stacy Grinsfelder, from Blake Hill House, and I am the host of True Tales From Old Houses.
Stacy Grinsfelder 0:40
Hello, everyone. I hope you're all doing well this week. Whenever I'm getting ready for a new episode, I think, my goodness, is it really time to do this again? The prep and the administrative duties never really end. However, once I start recording and putting the show together, it does feel like a lot of time has passed since I've been here. I don't really know what it's like for you as a listener, but hopefully it's just enough of me--not too little. Not too much. Anyway, I want to start today with a thank you. True Tales From Old Houses received a couple of very nice reviews last week. Many thanks to the bark eater, and kitty_ j18, for your kind and thoughtful reviews. Something tells me those are not your real names. This season, I have gotten out of the habit of encouraging people to leave ratings and reviews. However, it is a pretty important facet of podcasting. Positive ratings and reviews help people find the show and tell them that True Tales From Old Houses is worth a listen. So if you have a minute, and you're so inclined, it would be great if you would leave a rating or review wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. It really helps.
Stacy Grinsfelder 1:52
Okay, I do have two more things to tell you. And the first is that the spring merchandise fundraising event is officially on. It started last week, and it runs through Monday, June 7. So it's the same pre-order situation just like last fall; no money changes hands right now. When you go to the True Tales From Old Houses website, you will see the merch run graphic in the sidebar, and at the top of the page, you'll also see a link to the merch run. And for good measure, I put it in the show notes of this episode too. And those links will take you where you need to go to place your pre-order. This spring we have short sleeve and long sleeve t shirts, tank top, and a hoodie, and they're all in the same super soft fabric as last time. I wasn't going to do a hoodie. I mean it is summer--we are getting close to summer, but last time my daughter was really sad she didn't get one, and I promised that I would order one for her this round. There's also a really nice work apron. I wear an apron in my shop most of the time and I thought it would be fun to offer one with the True Tales From Old Houses logo on it. So here's how the whole thing works: between now and June 7, you'll submit a pre-order for the items you want. On June 8, I'll order everything from my friend Jim's small business. He printed our merchandise last time too. Now when everything is ready in a week or two after June 7, then I'll email an invoice to you, and once that invoice is paid, your gear will ship within two business days. Last time, everything went very smoothly, and I expect that it'll go well this time too, but if you have any questions or issues with the forum, just let me know, and I'll get everything straightened out right away.
Stacy Grinsfelder 3:32
The final announcement that I have is that I am participating in the one room challenge again, and I'll be working on the main bedroom here in Blake Hill House. So if you're unfamiliar with the challenge, it is a biannual event. It lasts for six to eight weeks-- it happens to be eight weeks this round. So I have eight weeks to finish making over my main bedroom here. Now the one room challenge started out as a decor event and the feature designers were, and still are, really talented professional interior designers. I am not a professional interior designer. It's not even my strength to be real honest with you. But now there are 200 to 300 guests participants like me and for our participation in the one room challenge, really anything goes. So it could be construction, decor, repairs, woodworking, sewing, you name it. It's technically--the whole thing is not a competition, but Better Homes and Gardens is the media partner, and they choose projects to feature on social and in their magazine. If you're interested in participating, it is not too late. You can head to oneroomchallenge.com and click on the guest registration link at the top of the page. And to follow my particular bedroom makeover, head to the blog, BlakeHillHouse.com, and I will put links to everything in the show notes too. As always, if you have information, events, workshops, that you'd like the old house community to hear about, please send me an email via the contact page, and I will happily announce it on an upcoming episode.
Stacy Grinsfelder 5:27
For today's Q&A, Bill Chapman from Enon Hall is back.
Stacy Grinsfelder 5:32
Stacy Grinsfelder 5:33
You probably have a lot of insight into today's listener question, and I wondered if you're ready. I talked you up a lot
Yes, let's hear it.
Stacy Grinsfelder 5:42
I have a lot of faith in you, Bill. Just know that just know that
Oh, no pressure, no pressure
Stacy Grinsfelder 5:47
Not pressure--It's faith, faith in you.
Stacy Grinsfelder 5:50
So the question is, gosh, you've had to deal with this a lot actually. How do you toe the line when renovating an old house to have modern amenities such as a kitchen or bathrooms?
Wow, that's a great question. You know, I think it comes down to your philosophy, your your approach to an old house. When we bought, when we decided we were going to move full time into this house, which is primarily early 19th century, we knew that we didn't want to take any 18th, early 19th century rooms and turn them into something that they were never intended to be
Stacy Grinsfelder 6:25
So and destroy that original fabric and, and flow and intent of the house. So we knew that in order to move here full time, we had a modern kitchen, and we were going to put it in an addition on the house. So then the question is, you know, there was no kitchen in the house. So how do you treat it so that it fits in? And nobody is going to walk?-- I think where I kind of land is that nobody's going to walk through an 18th century house or a 19th century house that you're living in full time and go, Oh, whoa, you have a kitchen and you have a bathroom and you wouldn't have had those in this house. So you have to give yourself a little bit of a pass on that. And for us, it's always been about material choice--design choice so that it feels like it all blends. So you know, this house has stood through three centuries. So it's seen kitchens of all periods. And at one point there would have been a 1930s or 1940s kitchen. But right now walking through our house that is all early 19th century feel, it would seem really bizarre to all of a sudden walk into a kitchen that feels 1930s
Stacy Grinsfelder 7:45
So our kitchen feels and we believe like what a kitchen would feel like in the early 19th century if they had all the modern amenities. So natural materials, you know, a countertop-- we chose soapstone-- certainly honed finishes anything thats kind of--anything that's not a high gloss would make sense. Our cabinets are very much like a furniture design, a shaker-like pieces of furniture versus contemporary cabinets, light fixtures, you know go a long way to bring that feel in. We do have stainless steel appliances, but to me they kind of go-- stainless steel kind of just goes away. It also--we have some fixtures and some accessories in the kitchen that are pewter, which are the period of the house and the stainless steel kind of blends with the pewter
Stacy Grinsfelder 8:38
How about you? What was the approach? You have a wood countertop right?
Stacy Grinsfelder 8:43
I have an island which is very not 1885. So yeah, so I have a kitchen island, which I adore. You can come and pry that out of my cold dead hands. It's probably the favorite part of the whole kitchen. I was gonna ask you really quick though so you do have a modern like a fitted kitchen? You don't have an unfitted kitchen in your house? You have cabinets you have
Stacy Grinsfelder 9:05
everything like that. Okay, so I do too, and it's interesting that you mentioned no kitchen because I've recently discovered a found out through some people who have a connection to this house, from other houses around-- this was part of an estate-- that this house that I live in Blake Hill House, probably didn't have a kitchen. I know they had a an area to bring the food in. They had a big stove so they probably could warm things keep it warm, but I believe there was a separate house where the kitchen was, and all of the food and everything was prepared there for all of the different houses on the estate, and it didn't even occur to me because I was so new in this. When we redid our kitchen we had a 40s kitchen too, which stuck out like a sore thumb--you know metal cabinets. They were all rusty. There was one light in the center, and I--they had taken the the brick pad, where the cookstove you know, the stove used to sit, and they'd put the new modern stove--a wood stove used to be on it--they put a new modern stove on it. So it was higher. I'm not a tall person. So it sat up off the ground about three or four inches. And then that one light was behind and my head would Eclipse it every time so I can never see
Oh, that's the worst.
Stacy Grinsfelder 10:22
Yeah, anything that I was making in this kitchen ever.
Your head is constantly casting a shadow on your workplace. That's no good.
Stacy Grinsfelder 10:29
In the summer when humidity struck, my hair was bigger and much more light--but yeah, so when we took all of that out, I realized there was no evidence of lines from cabinets, and it didn't even cross my mind. I just was like, Oh, you know, nothing was there. I didn't even cross my--, but there is a room beside it. Where actually-- the room that I'm in right now, and it's currently my office and laundry, and that would have been probably where they brought in a bunch of stuff, and then I do have an original little pantry where they would have kept some food and it has cabinets. Yeah. So I'm going on a tangent here. I'm probably taking more than my turn here, but the point is, I guess I feel a lot like you do, it's more about making something modern, fit in and almost recede into the house rather than detracting from it. And I really felt like my 1940s kitchen took away from the beauty that was here originally the craftsmanship because it was just so different. I mean, it was almost like going to a spaceship, you know, in the center of my house because the cabinets were just so strikingly different. And and so I have kind of what I consider an interim kitchen. For me it was the kitchen we could afford. It's much better; it functions much betterf, but if I had $100,000, I would surely do it differently, which I don't have, by the way. I have all sorts of plans that I would do, but I know that a lot of people are going back to the unfitted kitchen now, which is basically, you know, tables and freestanding appliances, and I think that is a really, it might be in line with the house. In my house, I feel like I just want more--a little bit more modern, but that modern--the ability to do modern things, I don't want it to look sleek, by any means. It just needs to blend in.
I think something that we all need to keep in mind is old house owners is that, yeah, throughout the history of all of our houses every 30 years, every generation or every new owner adapted the house to fit their life, their family, their needs. So just because we are, you know, sensitive to restoring the house and so forth doesn't mean that we can't continue--The house needs to be livable for your family, just like our house needs to be livable for our family.
Stacy Grinsfelder 12:51
I don't feel guilty. I think it's just in making choices that make the kitchens and bathrooms and so forth sensitive and blend in to the rest of the house.
Stacy Grinsfelder 13:02
Right for sure. And I'm pretty--my house was owned by the Bryant's. I'm pretty sure Mrs. Bryant would have loved my microwave way back in 1885. All the time saved. I love that...
Stacy Grinsfelder 13:15
Yeah, exactly. But yeah, as far as bathrooms go, I've never had anyone come to my house and wish they could use the outhouse. So I'm on board with flushing toilets and everything. But how many bathrooms do you think your house had when you first--like did you have? --well, no, it wouldn't have had indoor plumbing in the beginning. Right? and neither did mine.
Yeah, so when we bought it, there was a technically a full bath upstairs, but the tub is almost like a dog tub. Very small. And then there was a half bath downstairs, we actually got rid of the half bath downstairs and added a couple of new bathrooms but again made them-- when you walk in there, they don't feel stark and brand new. You know, we're doing the hex tile in showers and beadboard that is seen in other parts of the house. So it feels familiar when you walk into the room.
Stacy Grinsfelder 14:07
I just shared a picture of the bathroom recently on Instagram. I don't I don't, and I have a sink from about the 1910s 1920s. They didn't have a sink. There was no bathroom, you know, so everybody keeps asking me, Is it an original? Is that an original or an after after-addition? I'm like, well, both. I mean, They didn't have a bathroom. They had, well, they probably had this washing area, but the sink itself is a later addition. But yes, it's original to the house because it was the first place it's been, you know? It didn't come from somebody else.
Stacy Grinsfelder 14:39
What's your favorite? This is a secondary question. Nobody asked but I'm curious what's your favorite modern amenity that you have in your house?
Wow. Actually, it's not too modern. It's--I'm a trying to think of-- the brand is a Hamilton Beach. It's a coffee grinder. Oh, it's like a 1960s vintage. coffee grinder with a glass top. glass jar on. It's a little things. It's a little pleasures.
Stacy Grinsfelder 15:07
Right. Right keeps you from having to use that mortar and pestle every morning, right?
That's right. That's right.
Stacy Grinsfelder 15:12
Thank you so much, Bill. It was fun to talk to you again today. And I'm so glad you came back to do this Q&A.
Stacy Grinsfelder 15:19
All right. Thanks so much. Bye.
Stacy Grinsfelder 15:21
Now it is your turn all season, I've been asking you what is the weirdest or most surprising thing you ever found in your old house? And I have a couple of your answers to share today. First, Rachel found a cigar box that had been converted into a Morse code message box. She said it came with a cheat sheet and a pencil. I think finding a Morse code message box would be a dream come true for my kids. Actually, you know what? I think it would be a dream come true for me too. I'm just picturing sending messages back and forth. It would be so fun. I also received an intriguing answer from Bethany she writes, and I'll just quote her, "In my first house. I was always searching for the forgotten treasure rumored to be in the house. Then one day I found it. It was," and I've decided to-- this is me add a drumroll for effect, so here we go. [drumroll] "It was a limited edition collector's only Liberace album.: I always think to ask too late but I wonder where she found it? Do you have an answer to this season's question? If so, visit True Tales From Old Houses and submit your answer by voicemail or email. For a voicemail, click on the mic icon in the bottom right hand corner you'll see it on your phone or your computer. Just please answer in a complete sentence. If you want to send an email instead, tap contact in the top menu bar. Your privacy is important, and I will not share your messages without your permission. Thank you, Rachel and Bethany for taking the time to answer the question about the weirdest or most surprising thing you ever found in your old house.
Stacy Grinsfelder 17:17
My guests today represent Elfreth's Alley, which is as I mentioned before the oldest residential street in the United States. It was founded around 1702, and it's located in Philadelphia. Ted Maust is the director of the Elfreth's Alley Museum, and Sue and Rob Kettell have lived on the street in one of the original houses for over 40 years.
Ted Maust 17:38
My name is Ted Maust, and I am the director of the Elfreth's Alley Museum, a small museum on Elfreth's Alley, one of Philadelphia's most historic streets.
Rob K. 17:47
I'm Rob Kettell. I live on the alley and have lived here for 40 years. We live right across from the Elfreth's Alley Museum.
Sue K. 17:55
And I'm Sue Kettell. Rob is my husband, we've lived here for the last 46 years, Rob. We raised two women here, who are now in their 30s and love it.
Stacy Grinsfelder 18:07
Wonderful, thank you so much for being here. This is a little bigger group than I usually talk to. And I'm thrilled to have Ted as a as the director of the museum and then actual residents from Elfreth's Alley here on the show. So thank you very much. All right, Ted, I'm going to start with you. It's my understanding that the building in Elfreth's Alley began in 1703, in response to overcrowding. And I would like you to start by giving us a broader view of its origins.
Ted Maust 18:36
Sure. So the most of the alley itself, the street was created in 1703, as a way to get basically into the middle of the block. Because while these these lots were laid out for big homes with big lawns, both industrial buildings and homes were being built in the middle of the lots. And so around 1703, a man who ran a flour-making operation he was a bolter created little alley on the edge of his property by 1713 to 10 years later, at least one house was located on that little alleyway. And then beginning on the 1720s, that alleyway became actually more formalized. So that alleyway was 10 feet wide, five feet of the adjoining property was tacked on to it. So it became a 15 foot wide alley, which is what it is today. And the first two of the houses that are currently standing were built around 1724. And then from there, it was sort of a lot-by-lot as as these lots got subdivided and the gaps between them were filled. Many of the lots originally held working buildings such as potter's kiln or a blacksmith gorge, or a carpentry shop, stables, but between roughly the 1770s and the 1820s. Most of the houses on the street were built --that are now standing, some of them replacing earlier houses. So Rob and Sue's house was built in, I think 1797.
Stacy Grinsfelder 20:08
Wow. Alright, so I'm having a hard time, I do want to find out a lot about Sue and Rob's house. But I'm so I'm not catching on to this idea that you can build a whole residential street in an alley that's 15 foot wide. Can you clear that up?
Ted Maust 20:21
So So essentially what happened with Philadelphia was that the the blocks were laid out in these these massive blocks with huge wide thoroughfares, all out of this sort of attempt to build a perfect city and a fireproof city. But the reality was that people wanted to be close to where sort of the business action was happening, which was within a few square blocks of one intersection, basically, right along the docks. And so people crowded into these spaces. And the the alley really started as like a utility road, a pathway that you might use for somebody pushing a cart, or carrying a wheelbarrow or something. But with the addition of the second sort of bit of it that extended to 15 feet, it became mostly a pedestrian way today, cars can drive down. The city of Philadelphia has a few very narrow trash trucks, one of which visits the street every week. But, you know, basically, there's houses very close to each other across the street. And you know, I heard somebody quip the other day as they walked past the alley, "This is the widest street in Philadelphia," because Philadelphia is, is a city of narrow streets. We're lucky here that we have bollards lining the streets, so nobody can park on the sidewalk, which is sort of the fashion in other parts of the city. Yeah. And it became residential, largely because this this was a little it filled the niche. That was a space that was close to the docks, and close to places where work was available. But the lots that were developed along the street were small enough, and the houses that were built on them are small enough that they were relatively affordable to working class people. On the alley itself was was very working class from its earliest times.
Stacy Grinsfelder 22:07
That's interesting. Alright, so let's talk about the preservation history of the street, because I'm sure for a long time people just lived there. When did it become both a residential street and a historic district as such with protected status?
Ted Maust 22:21
So, that story could probably begin a bunch of different ways err places and times. But the simplest sort of origin story is that in 1933, a woman named Dolly Ottey, who had moved to the street to run a little sandwich shop, out of one of the houses, wrote a letter to the newspaper. She had learned that two, three of the houses on the street were owned by a neighboring paint company and factories were sort of crowding in on the street. This neighborhood became very, very industrial in the 19th century, and she was worried that they were going to be knocked down. From her perspective, she was a business owner, who saw this as a street as an opportunity, and probably the historic nature, the older homes as part of that brand. But also she didn't want a factory moving and right across the street. So she wrote this letter to the newspaper and said, this is a problem. These are some of the oldest houses that I've ever seen. What do I do about it? and people very quickly put her in come contact with a different group of preservationists led by a woman named Frances Wister, who came from, you know, very old, wealthy family who had two years earlier started an organization called the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks. And everybody who responded to Dolly Ottey said, you got to get in contact with Frances Wister. They met up, and sort of over the next decade and a half, two decades, those two organizations sort of worked in the same space along the alley. So Dolly Ottey created the Elfreth's Alley Association, which is what now runs the museum. And that association is really a neighborhood organization to begin with. They were interested in having events, having parties, bringing people to the alley. The Society for the Preservation of Landmarks, as far as I sort of understand that the division of these two organizations duties, was more interested in making sure that the houses didn't come down. So they were doing things like investigating purchasing houses that were condemned. And so they actually bought a few of them. Eventually, the association did so as well. And by sort of the mid century, the association had, I believe, three properties at that point, and The Society for Preservation of Landmarks had something like another three properties perhaps,
Stacy Grinsfelder 24:40
Ted Maust 24:40
and the idea was they would buy these properties, they would shore them up so that they weren't, were no longer condemned. They they hoped that they could raise money to maybe restore them in some fashion, but primarily they would rent them out as sort of income producing properties. And so that's sort of where you get to The 1950s. But in the 1950s, the two houses that are now our museum--one of them was again condemned for the second time. So The Society for Preservation of Landmarks had bought it and fixed up a little bit, but it was being condemned again. At the same time, the Elfreth's Alley Association was thinking about what was the next step of their, their mission? How could they sort of expand what they were doing? They were doing a lot of having volunteers in colonial dress would sort of hang out and one of the houses and tell people about the street if they came in, but that house was one of their rental properties. So they wanted a dedicated space, they wanted a museum. And so I don't know who who generated the idea. But The Society for the Preservation of Landmarks, handed off control of one of the houses that they owned that had been condemned to the association with the expectation. And in the contract, I think it actually said that they were to restore it and turn it into a museum within five years or something.
Stacy Grinsfelder 26:02
Okay, great. Well, I want to ask Rob and Sue Kettell, I have a question for you. So modern Elfreth's Alley is described as a thriving residential community and you two are actively thriving within it, I suppose. And I want to know how and when you decided to make your home there?
Sue K. 26:19
you want to start, Rob?
Rob K. 26:21
Sue and I moved here from Southern California and knew nothing about the city of Philadelphia-- knew very little about historic preservation. We were looking for a place to rent for two years while I was going to school at Penn. So we needed someplace where I could easily get to the school and Sue had a job lined up in Morristown, New Jersey. So we needed she needed to get across the Ben Franklin bridge to New Jersey. And this happened to be a good location. So had nothing to do with history or houses, if it was strictly a locational decision. For us.
Stacy Grinsfelder 26:55
It's the same real estate issue everywhere, right? location, location, location.
Rob K. 26:59
Sue K. 27:00
But it also if I might have had, it's just a, we looked around in many places, we had really no money. So we were very careful to get a place that wasn't expensive. So we looked at a lot of alleys, other than this one, because we didn't know about it. And we had sleeping bags, and we slept on floors in places that you wouldn't believe. So someone finally said, you know, this is an alley, this alley, and we thought okay, we'll look at one more alley, and that's how we came to Elfreth's Alley. The house was in very bad shape. And we just started to fix it up, even though we rented it. For only two years, we ended up 45. And we had a wonderful person who had been willed the house and we had started to fix it up even though it wasn't ours. So she she did not raise our rent. And she knew that we were doing a lot. And so we were able to stay here. She wanted to give the house to someone who loved it, even though she decided not to live here because the spiral staircases when she retired. So we after 12 years of renting she said please go find some money. So you can I want you to have the house. So it it worked out really great. So 45 years, we're here.
Stacy Grinsfelder 28:08
How did how did two years become 45? Did you just fall in love with the house? Or did your job plans change or everything?
Rob K. 28:15
We fell in love with the city I think in the house, After I graduated, I began looking for jobs in the media area, and I found one and we stayed.
Stacy Grinsfelder 28:27
That's so interesting. You raised two girls there you said,
Sue K. 28:29
two girls who are now in their 30s. And they became very city girls on subways, going to high school, they went to a public high school here and we just got really into it. I mean, we love the city. We'd like the diversity of people and I love this house and is creaky and you know, has different, wonderful personality to it. It probably would not be for some people, but we just love it. And of course, I don't know. We just we just do love it. And then of course being on the alley with all the history has been wonderful.
Stacy Grinsfelder 28:58
What kind of work did you have to do on the house to live to move into it? Or Well, you lived in it? What kind of to make it a more livable house for you is what I meant to say?
Rob K. 29:05
Well, after we purchased it, after we rented it for 12 years, we had to do a lot. We did work on the plumbing, electricity, the new roof on the first 12 years it was all cosmetic stuff because didn't own it. So over that 12 years we had probably ended up painting all the rooms and making them livable. And then once we got it, we had to do real work.
Stacy Grinsfelder 29:25
Then you got stuck with everything else right? Is it still actively falling down like most of our old houses?
Rob K. 29:31
We just finished I think the last of our major roof leaks last year.
Stacy Grinsfelder 29:35
Oh good for you. So you have a little reprieve right now.
Sue K. 29:38
Stacy Grinsfelder 29:40
Ted, you also live on the street. Is that correct? in the alley, I mean.
Ted Maust 29:43
I do not. I commute from West Philadelphia. But right now I'm in the the third floor of the museum, which is my office. It's it's six feet one inch tall. And I know that because I'm six feet tall.
Stacy Grinsfelder 30:02
What is it like for someone who wants to buy a house in Elfreth's Alley now, assuming they ever go on the market? It sounds like a lovely place to live, maybe nobody's leaves.
Ted Maust 30:11
About one property, two properties go on the market or are available to rent each year. We actually had a few sort of turnover, this this last year and a half or so. The ones that have sold recently have been on the smaller side. So one of the things that's interesting about the houses on on the street, are they there, they were all built in this pretty narrow window of time, when you look at it from a long distance, are built between the 1720s in the 1830s, that period of time was also a period of huge architectural difference, and then changing styles. So these houses are relatively different sizes from each other. And, you know, folks like Rob and Sue have lived in these houses for a long time, many people have expanded the houses. So they range from, you know, I think the smallest is probably about one of our museum houses is about 1200 square feet, there's a few that are sort of in 1000 square feet, 900 square feet, sort of range. There's others that are I think the biggest one is maybe even 2000 square feet. So there's a big range. The ones that have sold recently have been on the smaller side. And people often walk down the street and think these must be such expensive houses. And they are because this This neighborhood is relatively expensive to live in. But they're not you know, more expensive than a house one one street over and in fact, in some cases they may be cheaper because they're smaller and older and black some of the amenities of the nearby condos or apartments and those kinds of things.
Stacy Grinsfelder 31:48
What does it mean to be a resident in Elfreth's Alley? You're just living and other people are coming to take a peek.
Sue K. 31:54
Actually, if you don't like people, you're probably on the wrong Street. But I love it and look at it as-- you know, when we first moved here. I mean, there weren't a lot of people in this area. There were a lot of restaurant supply places big-- you know that do wholesale, and we loved it. I mean, it was great to have the kids. I know it's just nice to have that. We'd go to Independence Park as our playground so they can go roll around the hills and stuff. But the neat thing was it does people can misconstrue is it everybody lives on the alley as wealthy. It's not true, as Ted somewhat alluded to, there might be a couple houses that there are wealthy people, but basically, it's it's a place where-- you have to love it too, because there's things that are uneven, things that squeak, and it wouldn't be for everybody. But the other thing is that living here when people come down the street at the end of the night and they turn the corner and they see this alley is kind of Oh, and I talked to-- I like I talked to a lot of the tourists. I really love it. They come from all over the world and stuff. And they'll say well, this is actually one of our favorite places to come when we visit because it's so real you don't have signs up that have all the years on everything and they don't have--There's not a big sign that says Elfreth's Alley- like neon sign at the end of the street or something. It's just a street And the neat thing is it is a living museum in itself. It's that doesn't close down at four o'clock except for where Ted is, which is a wonderful that we have this two is two houses that are made into the museum. So it's it's so real. They love it. And it hasn't been like let's put up a fake street that looks like 1700s This is it. It's been here. So that's the beauty. For me at least living here. We love it. We're very actually we're also very grateful. Have a nice little house in Center City, Philadelphia at this point. Because all around us, the developers are coming forth. And the price of things has just gone up. I don't know how people afford it, really. But we're still here. Rob you might want to add to that.
Sue K. 32:35
It's fun in some way. Whenever you open the door, there's usually somebody out there on the street. So it provides a sense of security. There's always somebody to talk to. So it has the social environment, where if you're not into that, it's like Sue said, you're on the wrong Street.
Stacy Grinsfelder 34:17
I'm into that. So it sounds like a place I'd really like to be for sure.
Sue K. 34:20
Come. Have I mean, coffee, tea, whatever. glass of wine.
Stacy Grinsfelder 34:25
Yeah, any and all of those things I would love to come and visit for sure. So, Ted, I'm gonna come back to you because I have a question about it. We do on this show. We talk a lot about high style houses just because we are only 52 episodes and that seems to be what comes around fairly often. And they also seem pretty straightforward to research because the occupants and architects that built them really love to talk about themselves. And they were creating a legacy. So I'm very curious how it is to read You search an area like Elfreth's Alley, which, where sometimes people who lived in those types of houses didn't leave much behind.
Ted Maust 35:07
Yeah, we have sort of a range of people who we can sort of talk about in the alleys history, because the very early movers and shakers were people who were landowners who were the houses that were being built on the alley, at the very beginning were for their kids or their grandkids. And they were sort of like family compounds almost. And so those folks left a relatively strong trail, not necessarily in terms of publications, or letters with those kinds of things, but a rich history of deeds, and wills, and sometimes, you know, letters, and newspaper ads and those sorts of things. But for the vast majority of people who have lived over on the street over the last 300 years, you know, 1000s, at this point, very many of them, the only things that I can find out about them are where they come in contact with sort of state apparatus, or sort of more formal situations. So for instance, the census is a really great resource for us. Because the census is recorded, or at least has been recorded, pretty much geographically, people are listed next to their neighbors. If you can find one person who lived on the street, you can just look up and down the census list and find more people who are living on the street. The other thing that we have in Philadelphia, that's a really great resource is that many of the city directories, the equivalent of phonebook or you know, LinkedIn, by the way,
Stacy Grinsfelder 36:38
old timey, LinkedIn,
Ted Maust 36:39
exactly, or have mostly been digitized from about 1785, to the 1860s. And there's a few outliers in the late 19th century and early 20th century that are sort of similar resources. And because those are digitized, it's a lot easier to pretty quickly find someone, if you if you if you have a name, or you have an address, you can pretty quickly sort of at least get some idea of who is living there. The challenge with both that and the census is that primarily those are recording heads of household rather than who else is in the household. 20th century censuses show-- you have an entry for each person in the household, but especially early history, we know who was paying taxes, maybe we know who had the most prominent job. In one case, I was looking at a record for somebody and they were listed on the census but I believe they had died that because the widow was still using their name as the as the head of the household for the census record. So that there's this sort of an erasure of people who weren't the heads of households on the street, which is a challenge.
Stacy Grinsfelder 37:47
Yeah, that is interesting, hmmm. Rob and Sue, have-- in all the work that you've done in the house or looking towards your future, have you left any sort of Time Capsules in the walls or anything that lets people know that you were there and you made your mark on that house for over probably 50-60 years?
Rob K. 38:03
Yes. In the basement, when they rerouted the furnace flue from the chimney to this closets on on the the side, there were several major holes in the bricks, and we left a little time capsule in there. When we redid the kitchen before they mounted the cabinets we wrote on the wall say who was living here and dated.
Stacy Grinsfelder 38:29
Oh, that's neat. How long ago was the writing on the wall and that time capsule about just approximately
Rob K. 38:35
We did the kitchen in 1995. The time capsule was done in 1984
Stacy Grinsfelder 38:41
Oh, that's gonna be a good one. That 1984 Time Capsules is right up my alley. I'd like to see what's inside that.
Rob K. 38:48
We put a hard disk in there because we're on the way down to time. a floppy disk.
Stacy Grinsfelder 38:57
We were talking with a friend-- I was talking about with the friend about putting time capsule in from this previous year, which has been crazy and I was noticing that a lot of the advertisements had people wearing masks and I thought that would be a really good thing to put in a time capsule these paper advertisements with people wearing masks, because of course no one--none of us will ever forget the pandemic year of our lifetime but it'll fade that memory will fade will eventually start thinking about other things
Sue K. 39:24
I'm sure one of the things that was so interesting is we really there are the the walls or the good old plaster you know with the horsehair and all that and most of them some of them have been repaired in other ways. And there are places where you can see where their chair rails and some people have moved into these houses and they smooth everything down, and we have done is left left it so you can see where are the chairs where it's bumpy, our ceilings have bumps and we just painted it in me with repair and also our floors. We finally got all of our floors have been redone. And at first we weren't sure that they would work because they were gray dried out. Our house eally had not --In a way it was really kind of neat because it was left. So we decided let's try it and this guy came in and he did a phenomenal job of of redoing our floors, and they are New Jersey red pine, which I think is extinct at this point. And even where they put the bathroom, if you set if you sat on the toilet you had to--you had a hole I mean not in the toilet but on the floor, and when our children were washing their hair, you know, teenagers, we decided maybe just this little tiny bathroom--tile it, and we took that floor and repaired other holes in the house. So the floor is really came out great. And they're all they've all been brought up in look really neat. And I'm glad we just didn't want--because other people have suggested, "Why don't you just put an oak floor over this one?" and I was like, no-- and our fireplaces were all they had a heating flue through them. So that was the first thing we did was get a roof that didn't leak and open and fireplaces. So we have three that are working now in the house. And we re-routed, as Rob pointed out, through the candle closet, this the heating deal so we could open our fireplaces, but it was phenomenal. I mean that we have this these three fireplaces that, that work, and we used to read stories to our kids in front of their fireplace before they went to bed.
Stacy Grinsfelder 41:13
That's a nice memory. Yeah, fireplaces are so neat. And so many of them are rendered useless after a certain amount of time. So that's wonderful. I'm glad you were able to bring those back to life. I'm sure they're a beautiful part of the house.
Stacy Grinsfelder 41:27
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Stacy Grinsfelder 43:54
So Ted, from the viewpoint of the director of the museum, how would you suggest that tourists make the most of their time during a visit to Elfreth's Alley?
Ted Maust 44:02
That's a really great question, and it's one that I think about a whole lot. The street is only one block long. It's very easy for people to sort of come walk about halfway down, look around, say okay, check that off my list. And so one of the things that we've been trying to do is, is find ways that as Sue said, you know, don't get in the way of the houses that are there. We don't want to put interpretive panels on everybody's front window. But But ways to sort of draw people in, but also extend their visit. So one of the things that we did in the last year is I wrote a short audio guide that people can listen to on their phone, which just, it's 20 minutes long. It probably doesn't actually extend their stay, but it tells people a little bit about some of the houses without having to read it. The other thing that we did was we sort of threw together a podcast last year as sort of a result of pandemic planning and plan B-ing. And the hope for that is really, that-- that is something that people who visit the street can either listen to before their visit or after their visit. But it gives them stories beyond what they see and what they might be able to see. I mean, our museum, when we're open is also quite small. And we would love to sit and talk with people about the history of this place. But often people have other places to go. So they might duck into the museum, and then they're out. And so finding ways to try to keep them coming back for more stories or answering questions that they might have from their from their brief visit is is something that I hope to get better at. Really, one of the things that I think people shouldn't miss, while they're here is that there is a little, you know, this alley was cut into a block to give access to the middle of the block. And for much of this alley's history, there were all sorts of other alleys cut into going off from various just different directions on the street. And there's still one it's called bladen's Court, and it sort of leads into a back little courtyard. And there are people who walk halfway down the street and never never know that that exists. And I think that's one of the coolest little sort of, somewhat hidden spots, on the alley.
Stacy Grinsfelder 46:19
I was going to mention your podcast at the end, but since you've already alluded to it, then I'll just jump right in and say it's called the Alley Cast, and I listened to some episodes, and I really enjoyed them. So great work, Ted,
Ted Maust 46:30
Well, thank you.
Rob K. 46:30
Um, your visitors can schedule their tours here, twice a year, we have open houses where they can go through the private houses. The first Saturday in June is the summer afternoon open house, and then in the winter, the first Saturday in December, we have an evening, open house with fire in the fireplace and mulled cider.
Stacy Grinsfelder 46:53
Oh, that sounds beautiful.
Sue K. 46:54
We have about 20 houses that are open. It's phenomenal. We had how many 1000s did we have one one year, Ted?
Rob K. 47:00
So before my time, I think that there were many, many 1000s. In 2019, we had a very good turnout. And I think we had maybe just-- I'm trying to remember. My head is not great with numbers, but you know, in the in the 80s, I think it was it was 1000s and 1000s, at least one day. Those are great opportunities, because you know, some people just open their front doors, but many of the houses let people walk through the first floor. And so you know, as, as with many of the people you talk to for your podcast, you get to see what contemporary 21st century life looks like in you know, 18th and 19th century homes. People have really different tastes. You know, some people have very historical sensibilities. Some people have more sort of artistic sensibilities. There's lots of variety on the street.
Stacy Grinsfelder 47:54
I'm so torn between coming on one of those days with 1000s of people and seeing beautiful fireplaces in December. And then otherwise, just emailing Robin Sue and saying, Hey, can I come visit you?
Ted Maust 48:05
Well, whichever time you come, you'll get a great tour from Rob and Sue.
Sue K. 48:11
Do both. It really phenomenal, because there's so many people that come to this. And they'll say I remember my grandma brought me here when I was a kid. I mean, it's so neat to talk to people who have come back because they were here when they were kids. And we charge I think a very wonderful fee, like $25, and you can go through at least 20 houses. And what Ted just alluded to is the neat thing is people can use the decor that they have and interesting stuff--don't have to have all colonial motif. And yet the outside is is you know what it's supposed to be. But it's so fascinating. And so if you get here, it's the first Saturday in December, and if people celebrate Christmas, they've got their tree up, and all if they don't, you know they have their own thing. And then in June is a whole different field. I can't express you that. That is a neat thing if you can get to that. But we would love to have you any other time.
Stacy Grinsfelder 49:03
Well, I'm, I've already got the wheels turning in my head. I'm thinking about this. I don't live too far away, so I could figure that out. But before we say goodbye today, I have a question for both of you and Ted or all of you, I suppose. Ted first I-- would you tell people where they can find the Alley Cast? I'm going to link to everything in the show notes. So we're going to talk about it here. But there are show notes on the True Tales From Old Houses website and anybody can find everything there as well.
Ted Maust 49:30
You can find the Alley Cast on on whatever sort of podcaster you use, Apple podcast, Spotify, whatever, on our website at elfrethsalley.org. We also have each episode, we have a transcript and a list of sources for it. So if if that is something that is useful to you, that's probably the best place to go for that.
Stacy Grinsfelder 49:50
Okay great. And for Rob and Sue. I'm curious, since you've lived there for such a long time do you have maybe a funny story about living there? Or something odd that happened that just sticks out in your mind?
Sue K. 50:03
Well, one is that, you know, our kitchen was very minimal, and we were kind of people that can make do. So we're making do and and this is the stove that we had at that it was very old, but you didn't know how hot it was or how what was going on. You just kind of put your hand, Oh, yeah, I think it's up to 350. And we just managed and then one day, the oven door fell off in my hand. I said, "I think it's time we maybe do some with this kitchen." and that's kind of how we've done it most of the house was was through need. And that's why I think a lot of the stories come from doing it through need--like this a hole in the floor. I'm stepping through it, maybe we need fix that.
Stacy Grinsfelder 50:42
Isn't it funny how we can look at things for a long time that are broken or need to be addressed, and you just slowly work your life around them until-- usually what happens to me, I have somebody come over and I think, oh my goodness that they probably saw that hole that's been there that I forgotten about over the last seven years.
Rob K. 50:59
One of the things that we certainly find interesting is that they they did an addition on the back of the house before they had running water, and then when running water and sewer came in, they turned the back bedroom into a bathroom. So we have the largest bathroom anyplace I've ever been.
Sue K. 51:19
Stacy Grinsfelder 51:21
That's great. What's your favorite part about living there?
Rob K. 51:24
I think it's still reason we came here. It's location, location, location. It's we're right in Center City of Philadelphia. You know, within walking distance, you can get all the espresso you want, the theatres, post office and the delis and everything. There a lot of the people on the alley don't have cars. They don't need them.--the public transportation and walking distance. It's a great place to live.
Sue K. 51:50
And I think we really liked the diversity. I taught the public school before I retired, and our kids went to public school. That's that's one of the things we love, and as Rob said, Our kids were not like Mommy's going to take you-- it's like, okay, subway,bus.
Stacy Grinsfelder 52:05
Sue K. 52:06
They became more independent quickly. But history. And Rob knows so much of the history around here. Like Ted. I mean, he gave a wonderful tour the whole area, and I think we just have the diversity and we do like people. I love--before the pandemic came, I used to say, Oh, yeah, want to come in --anytime and show people the first floor. I don't because now because of the pandemic, but I will sometimes take them to the side outside our house. See in between most houses, there's another alley. So you come in this little alley and you go to your house and the person goes to the house, which is why our open houses work because there's always a flow. You don't have to be stuck, and so I will take people in. Just yesterday I did-- I brought some people in and they came in they could look through our windows and see in, but I'm more careful. So in all masks and stuff. So I think it just the people, the diversity and and and we like the city what's involved here.
Stacy Grinsfelder 52:59
All right. Well, thank you for being here, Ted and Rob and Sue. It's just been a pleasure talking to all of you today. I've loved every second of it. Thank you.
Ted Maust 53:08
Sue K. 53:09
Thank you for doing this.
Rob K. 53:10
We look forward to seeing you.
Stacy Grinsfelder 53:13
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