Elfreth's Alley

Three hours and Ben Franklin: Context Tours Philadelphia

To be honest, I had heard enough about the Revolutionary War and the original colonies back in school. I wasn’t too excited to revisit the birthplace of democracy. I was looking forward to exploring the modern-day foodie and neighborhood haunts of Philadelphia.

Enter Context Tours and the Benjamin Franklin Seminar. It’s billed as a three-hour walking tour among Franklin’s stomping grounds, led by a local historian. Needless to say, I was skeptical.

I also was wrong.

Led by PhD- and MA-level guides (ours was Chris, pictured below), this isn’t just a cutesy visit to tourist traps. We first alighted in Elfreth’s Alley, often called America’s oldest residential street, and dating to 1702.

It sounds trite, but history actually comes alive, as we learned about Franklin’s inventions, his and his contemporaries’ local haunts, and the politics and history that surround the birth of a nation. We give a rosy glow to the start of the United States, but back then it was considered treason against Britain, and their ideas and their actions were anarchy. This is some of the framework within which we can view Franklin, but also his absolutely prolific nature to invent, publish and create so much.

Highlights of the tour are his home, printing shop, a working 18th century letterpress, his church (though he wasn’t the best attendee) and a bell that’s perhaps older than the Liberty Bell. I doubt I’d see—or see the importance of—these things without our guide.

Add in plenty of factoids to make any history buff happy (did you know he was the first to bring tofu to America?), and a guide who truly shows his passion for the subject, made it a well-spent three hours. The advantage of a small group, under six, was clear form the start: We could ask questions, hear everything and get a truly personal tour.

These tours may seem a bit more pricey than the average, but it’s also not an average tour. Highly recommended, and I hope to hit a city that Context Tours is in soon (they already know I’m dying for Chicago!).

Full disclosure, I was able to take this tour for free though it is typically $85 per person, individually. All opinions are my own.

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