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.

© janet m. webb 2017

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.

© janet m. webb 2017

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.  🙂

© janet m. webb 2017

  1. happyface313 says:

    🙂 It’s always fascinating to see how people paint their doors.
    Have a lovely day, dear Janet! 🙂

  2. Dan Antion says:

    You picked some winners to share with us, Janet, and I appreciate knowing the history. I hope to get back to Philadelphia at some point, and I hope I have time to just wander around.

  3. marianallen says:

    Isn’t it wonderful, how people manage to infuse personality into similarity? That two-tone screen door in picture two is absolutely charming! Thanks for the tour!

    • Thanks for coming along. One good thing about being a bit different is that it’s easier to tell people which is your house…or to find it if you’ve been out partying. 🙂 I see housing developments now where every house looks the same and I’d probably have to leave a trail of bread crumbs to get back home!


  4. Lovely to see such a variety of doors right next to each other, Janet. In Ireland we call them terraced houses and in newer estates they all have the same (usually white) pvc coated doors. The older houses in our towns and cities tend to be like the ones in your post, a mix of all kinds of design and colour, making them much more interesting.

  5. I’ve been through some of the old towns near Lancaster, streets so narrow it was amazing two lanes could fit, and full of the door to door houses like this. I loved seeing all the different colored shutters and doors, and imagined that people actually got to know their neighbors in places like that. Loved your little history and photo essay. Very interesting.

    • It would be fun if you liked your neighbors, but not so much fun if you didn’t. 🙂 If doors weren’t so expensive now, maybe more people would have interesting and different ones. Or maybe other people’s/countries’ always seem better or more interesting.


  6. Doors with color seem to be so much more welcoming. You have shown us quite a variety.
    Thank you for the information you added along with them. One never stops learning.
    Issy 😎

  7. Joanne Sisco says:

    There is just so much to comment on in this post. First – I like the numbering on the bottom of the doors. It makes so much sense for these elevated doorways, but I’m almost tempted to try it on my own home 🙂

    The outside door on all of these homes reminds me so much of growing up as a child with the inside door that always remained open in the summer, but in the winter, the screen was replaced with a glass section like 2042 in the first photo. All of these photos show doors with that 2nd outside door, but it’s not as common here.

    Great doors!

    • If the doors weren’t elevated, too much snow might cover the numbers, but Philly doesn’t really get that much snow. We had screen doors when I grew up, too, and many of them could have a storm door/window put in during the winter. For that matter, so did the windows. You’d put storm windows on for winter and then go back to screens the rest of the year


  8. Su Leslie says:

    Lovely post Janet, and so much information. Row or terraced housing is new to my country. For most of NZs architectural history people have built stand-alone houses and painted the whole house a different colour to the neighbours. I love the coloured front doors; I noticed the same thing in Scotland and mentioned to my gran who said that when people bought their council houses, they painted or replaced the front door as a way of personalising the house and announcing their ownership. :-_

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the information, Su. I’m always leery about having too much in a post because I don’t want to bore people and I know that a certain percentage are a bit like Caesar: I came, I saw, I liked, I left. 🙂 Personalizing a door or tiny front yard or window is about the only way to do it with a house like this. Outside of some big cities, houses in the US stand-alones, but in developments done by one developer, sometimes there isn’t that much variety, at least in the style of the home itself.

  9. Great history, and selection of doors! I like the middle pair best.

    Joanne’s thoughts on the double doors caught my eye too. We often see screen doors here, but not doors like these outside.

    I had a screen door on my front door until the remodel and we put in a new front door. I haven’t missed the screen door, but then I rarely opened my front door to utilize the screen door for allowing cooler air indoors.

    • I love screen doors that lock, because having them open in the summer can really cool the house down naturally or at least get in fresh air. I like the row houses, but have to admit I like have our own (rental) house in its own yard. 🙂


      • Our screen door locked, and honestly I kept it locked all the time and really found great comfort having it locked whenever I opened the door to a stranger that rang the bell. I liked having that sense of protection.
        Today I don’t open the door at all for strangers. It makes communicating harder, but. I’m not opening the door! 🙂

  10. jesh stg says:

    The bandbox makes it easy to get in contact with your neighbor! Whem I thought how they do in in Holland it’s often the opposite – door in the middle, or on opposite end of the neighbor’s door.Since Holland is so small, if you have an unconnected house it cost you a fortune to buy, unless you live on a farm
    You found a colorful capture to display these doors:)

  11. I love these and the history to go with it as well! The second pair is my favorite. One of the things I noticed when I moved from Florida to Virginia was that almost all the homes have storm doors.
    In Florida, most homes have doors that open outward to prevent them from blowing in during hurricane force winds, thereby eliminating the option of a screen door.

  12. Peter B says:

    Been to Philly quite a few times and always intrigued with the row houses. Great post and I love the door photos!

    • Thanks very much, Peter. Philly is so full of history and historical buildings that I really enjoy my visits there. Thanks for yours here and I hope you checked the post on Elfreth’s Alley that I liked in this post. That’s quite a place as well.


  13. Norm 2.0 says:

    Great finds Janet. We found Philly to be a fascinating place to visit and I do hope to get back there myself for some serious doorscursions. The best way to truly appreciate and discovery these neighborhoods is on foot.

    • As in Montreal, there’s so much history (but much less snow.) 🙂 Rittenhouse Square is a great place to start a doorscursion as well as to just sit, relax, and people-watch. You can also get great coffee, or in my case, cappuccino, at La Colombe, just off the square.

  14. joey says:

    So charming! I always enjoy row houses 🙂 Glad you shared some history.

  15. conspicari says:

    Great set of doors with such varied colours. :>)

  16. LucciaGray says:

    Lovely, colourful doors 💖

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