Philadelphia is universally known as the City of Brotherly Love. It’s probably mostly unknown as “City of Homes.” The Philadelphia Encyclopedia says:
Lining Philadelphia’s straight, gridiron streets, the row house defines the vernacular architecture of the city and reflects the ambitions of the people who built and lived there. Row houses were built to fit all levels of taste and budgets, from single-room bandbox plans to grand town houses. The row house was easy to build on narrow lots and affordable to buy, and its pervasiveness resulted in Philadelphia becoming the “City of Homes” by the end of the nineteenth century. As Philadelphia emerged as an industrial epicenter, the row house became synonymous with the city and was held up as an exemplar for egalitarian housing for all.
The oldest residential city street in the US, Elfreth’s Alley in Philadelphia, is a showplace of 18th century row houses still in use. If you missed my post and Thursday Doors entry about it, just click on the highlighted link (the first one). Most people in Philadelphia live in a row house.
Row houses were more economical for the builders. Materials, generally brick, could be bought in bulk and the more expensive work, such a plumbing, sewers, etc. could be done for a whole block at one time, meaning less labor costs. Of course, problems were also easier to share! A water leak or bug infestation could spread quickly.
There were four levels of row houses, ranging from the tiny trinity or bandbox to the largest, more elaborate town house plan. With houses attached, doors were by nature close to each other, as you see in these three sets of two doors. Here’s what the Encyclopedia says about the trinity houses:
The bandbox (sometimes called a trinity) is the smallest and therefore cheapest to construct, and it normally served as housing for the working-class or servants of larger properties nearby. These homes were often constructed on courts behind larger properties or in narrow alleys that divided larger blocks. The bandbox is typically no larger than sixteen feet on any side, with one room on each floor, rising two or three stories with enclosed winding stairs. The privies, or “necessaries,” were normally at the rear of the courts. In 1948 Murtagh found more than twenty courts filled with Bandbox row houses in Society Hill, but many were later demolished. Bell’s Court off Saint Josephs Way and Bladen’s Court off of Elfreth’s Alley are two examples that survived into the twenty-first century.
Just for fun, click here to see what a trinity house from 1813 i Blanden’s Court sold for recently. At the time it was built, a modest row house sold for about $2,500. Quite a change!! Of course, the house referenced here has been substantially upgraded, but it still has the original fireplace mantle and pine floors. The “necessaries” are now indoors, of course. 🙂