Historic Structures

Cliveden - Chew House, Philadelphia Pennsylvania

Date added: August 31, 2018 Categories: Pennsylvania House Mansion

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, and was paroled to New Jersey. 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 outguards 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 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 flatkeyed 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 adorm 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 twostory 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.