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How a realty company changed the name of one of Philly’s oldest streets

Browsing one of Philly’s many civic Facebook groups, I saw a post about new signs for one of the city’s oldest streets.

Little Boys Court? What a weird name, I thought to myself. Maybe a park or an orphanage? No, in fact, the truth was stranger.

The story starts in the early 1800’s when members of the Littleboy family began conducting business in the same alley nearby the intersection of 2nd and Arch Streets. The first mention of the alley as Littleboy’s Court comes in a September 1826 National Gazette (published in Philadelphia). Maulby John Littleboy, his son (a Jr), and George Littleboy operated various businesses in the vicinity. The Philadelphia House of Industry was also based in the court for some time.

The Littleboy Court is marked by the red location icon on this 1895 Philadelphia Atlas.

In a 1920 article about the few remaining alleyways in Philly, an intrepid journeyman for the Public Ledger traipsed from the Market Street-adjacent Grindstone Alley northwards, past the Littleboy Court:

I walked north then for a few paces–past the doors of dingy little workshops, and so came out into the sunlight at the corner of Arch street and Littleboy’s court, where a row of small Colonial houses that faced me with the little dim lights up in their ancient dormer windows tempted me to cross over and continue my wanderings up Bread street. This old lane cuts in somewhat inauspiciously between two tall, modern factory buildings, but after a hundred feet or so it develops character.

March 30, 1920 – Philadelphia Public Ledger, Rev. Helton

This history was revisited in a 1969 Philadelphia Inquirer article about the street stub (although by this time, the name had lost the possessive “Littleboy’s Court”).

In February 1938, the court was sold in a sheriff’s sale as lot #182:

Messuages (Nos. 64 and 66) and lots of ground, the on W. side of 2nd street between Market and Arch streets, in the 6th Ward; containing in front 35 feet, and in depth 154 feet 6 inches to 20 feet wide court, with the privilege thereof. Subject to ground rent of one thousand milled dollars for the arrearage of which this sale is held.

After that, the trail goes cold until 2015, when PMC Property Group filed plans with the Philadelphia Historical Commission to build a 10 story apartment building on the lot.

 Even in the official meeting minutes regarding architectural review, the street is called “Littleboys Court”.

Facsimile cobblestone on Littleboy’s Court architect rendering. The current Belgian block is not original or historically interesting.

Although you may have an opinion on whether the loading dock and 6 parking spaces should be added to Littleboy’s Court, it seems pretty indisputable that the historic name should be kept for the space.

As long as we get the Inquirer onboard, PMC would probably come around (and it can’t be that expensive to replace the street signs). Otherwise generations of visitors and Philadelphians will wonder: Who exactly were those Little Boys?

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