Cliveden (the Benjamin Chew House; 6401 Germantown Ave.) was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1961. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original National Register nomination document. It is located in Philadelphia on Germantown Avenue, between Cliveden and Johnson Streets.
Erected in 1763-64 the Chew House, or Cliveden, is a notable example of Late Georgian architecture.
The main house is two-and-a-half stories, with a full cellar, and measures 54 by 44 feet in size. The front exhibits the characteristic facade emphasis found in Georgian architecture: the front wall being built of regular ashlar gray stone masonry, and the others of rubble masonry stuccoed and grooved to simulate ashlar. The belt course, window sills, and lintels are made of dressed sandstone, and the lintels are grooved to simulate flat-keyed arches. The gable roof has arched dormers with flanking scrolls, a heavy cornice with prominent modillions, and five large urns are positioned on the roof. The large windows have 24 panes, and panelled shutters adorn the first floor windows.
The central pavilion on the front is narrow, measuring only twelve feet in width, and its heavy pediment rises from the cornice. The central door also has a pediment, which is supported by two flanking engaged Roman Doric columns.
The interior plan of Cliveden has the unusual monumentality that is gained by having an imposing entrance hall. Measuring 16 by 27 feet, with a 12-foot high ceiling, and well-lighted by a large window on each side of the entrance, the great hall is separated from the central stair hall at the rear by a screen of columns treated in the Doric manner, with triglyphs and recessed panels in metopes. A small office flanks either side of the entrance hall at the front, and the two main rooms at the back are the large dining room (left) and the drawing room (right). There is also a secondary stair and service hall, to the left. Kitchen and service rooms were originally in two detached two-story wings situated in the rear of the main house.
The second floor has a 12-foot-wide central hall that extends from front to back. On either side are two bedrooms and on the west side is a smaller hall containing the secondary stairway.
The kitchen and servants' quarters were originally in the detached two-story wings at the rear. A two-story wing was attached to the rear of the house, adjoining the western service wing. There is an early barn in the rear of the house as well, part of which has been converted into an office.
The six acres of grounds are magnificently kept, with occasional pieces of ornamental statuary.
Cliveden, built from 1763-64 as the country estate of Benjamin Chew, stands as both an excellent example of Late Georgian architecture, and as the most important surviving landmark of the hard fought battle of Germantown, October 4, 1777. In that action, Washington's army narrowly missed winning a significant victory over a large contingent of the British army guarding the northwestern approaches to a newly-occupied Philadelphia. Although indecisive in its immediate military results, the battle of Germantown had vast political implications in that, combined with the victory at Saratoga that same month, it proved to be a major influence in the consummation of the alliance with France that spelled final victory for the new American nation.
The two-and-a-half story Chew mansion is constructed of Germantown stone, with a detailed facade and an imposing entrance hall. It is located on six acres of grounds at 6401 Germantown Avenue.
The Chew House was built in 1763-64 by Benjamin Chew, then Attorney General of Pennsylvania, at Cliveden, his country estate. With the outbreak of the Revolution, Chew, whose patriotism was doubted, was relieved of his political duties. Thus on October 4, 1777, it was not Chew, but Colonel Musgrave and six companies of British infantry who were occupying Cliveden. This outpost was a full mile in advance of the main British line which Howe had positioned in Germantown to defend Philadelphia from Washington's forces which were encamped on Skippack Creek to the northwest. Washington began his attack on the night of March 3 in a march on Germantown. His forces were divided into two columns, one under Sullivan, and the other under Greene, while Lord Stirling held his troops in reserve. Sullivan arrived at Germantown at dawn, and despite the heavy fog, pushed back the enemy out guards until he reached Cliveden. Greene, however, lost his direction and arrived late on the scene. As the colonials attacked Musgrave barricaded his troops in the Chew House and stoutly resisted the assault. Knox, commanding the American artillery, blew in the main entrance, but his fire had little effect on the solid masonry walls. Musgrave continued to hold out while Sullivan pushed on to attack the main British line. In the ensuing engagement, Sullivan's troops were mistakenly fired upon by fellow soldiers and then for reasons not entirely clear, their line broke. Greene was forced to extricate his forces and retreat back to Skippack Creek. Cliveden had not fallen.
The battle of Germantown was not a disaster for the American army although it was a defeat, for despite two defeats in the preceding few weeks, they had stubbornly attached, and might have succeeded if not for the misfortune of heavy fog and confusion. As an illustration of determination and resilience, the battle of Germantown was a prime factor, with the battle of Saratoga that same month, in securing French aid.
Benjamin Chew was allowed to return to his home the following year, and he spent over a year and a half repairing the damage the house sustained in the battle. Lafayette and Washington, as well as many other notables were entertained at Cliveden, which remained in the hands of the Chew family until 1972 when it was acquired by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.