Blocks We Love: 700 Block of Miller Street

One of Philadelphia’s few remaining “residential courts” can be found tucked away in the heart of Fishtown. Historically known as Miller Court, the 700 block of Miller Street makes for a vibrant and picturesque little block.

Residential courts were once a mainstay of Philadelphia’s historic architecture and urban design.

A handful of these residential courts are still scattered throughout the City, largely unnoticed by most passersby. Fishtown is home to eight of them.

Miller Court consists of five houses, each one painted a different bright, bold color. Several sport a small, picket-fenced front yard.

While the court may get passed over by those walking down the larger thoroughfares that flank this petite block, those that take notice are in for a treat; stumbling upon this charming row of homes is like being transported into a storybook.

The contemporary, candy-colored facades of the 700 block of Miller Street
The contemporary, candy-colored facades of the 700 block of Miller Street

Today Miller Court sports a single row of five homes, but up through the 1960s there was a row of five homes mirroring those still standing. The schoolyard of the Holy Name of Jesus Parish at 701 Gaul Street now occupies the space where those rowhomes once stood.

The Holy Name schoolyard now occupies the southeastern side of the block where five additional rowhomes once stood
The Holy Name schoolyard now occupies the southeastern side of the block where five additional rowhomes once stood

According to historical maps of the area, this little block actually predates the larger, more complete 600 block of Miller Street, which supports two full rows of houses, vehicle access, sidewalks, and parking.

The pedestrian-only hideaway of 700 Miller Street first appeared in the 1875 Philadelphia Atlas as Ridley Ave. At this time the 600 block was still fully occupied by a large Malt House & Factory, the Gaul Estate, and a German Burial Ground.

1875 map of the block (Ridley Avenue at the time), which predated the 600 block, pictured here occupied by a factory, cemetery, and estate
1875 map of the block (Ridley Avenue at the time), which predated the 600 block, pictured here occupied by a factory, cemetery, and estate

By 1895, Miller Street (still Ridley Avenue at the time) was extended into the 600 block, and rowhomes were built on the site of the factory, cemetery, and estate. By 1910 the Philadelphia Atlas showed the street with its present day moniker, Miller Street.

This 1910 map shows Ridley Avenue renamed as Miller Street and its extension into the 600 block, running between East Montgomery and Berks Streets
This 1910 map shows Ridley Avenue renamed as Miller Street and its extension into the 600 block, running between East Montgomery and Berks Streets

Today, the five houses stand out as unique among the traditional Fishtown style of brick two-story rowhomes and present a series of cheery façades in a secret alcove of the neighborhood.

In the Internet era, we can even get a peak at their contemporary interiors! Recent listings show exposed brick, skylights, random-width pine flooring, sunny kitchens, and cozy bedrooms.

 

Historic maps courtesy of the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network. Green and red facade photos courtesy of Trend MLS