Built in 1767 in Philadelphia as a summer retreat for the wealthy Chew family, the Cliveden house bears the marks of the bloody Battle of Germantown of 1777. Since opening as a house museum in 1973, the Chew family and the battle have been the primary stories told at the site. The battle only accounts for 2.5 hours of Cliveden’s 250 year history, thus the project Emancipating Cliveden serves to tell the rest of story.
Cliveden rests on a 5.5 acre site in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, a community rich with history but beset by crime and blight. The discovery of and ensuing archival work on the Chew’s family papers consisting of over 230,000 documents opened the door to expanding historical memory through untold stories of people who shaped Cliveden over four different centuries.
Emancipating Cliveden includes a core exhibition with a dialogue based materials that emphasize the people who lived, fought, worked, and died at the site. A website and a program series allow ongoing research of the Cliveden papers to be publically accessible. The process to complete these initiatives has helped Cliveden expand their audience through collaboration with multiple communities combining both scholarly rigor and meaningful engagement. The project’s many initiatives and outcomes were part of an intentional process to produce a new Cliveden that would make the site more of a community center that welcomes open and challenging encounters with history, rather than a staid house museum.
Through scores of meetings and programs, thousands of people have taken part in Emancipating Cliveden in its varied components and outcomes. During the process, Cliveden welcomed all voices in order to garner diverse and inclusive story. Public input brought community co-ownership to Cliveden and help fulfill their mission and purpose of building vibrant communities.
The varied communities that Cliveden now reaches extends beyond its traditional audiences interested in Revolutionary or architectural history and decorative arts. New partnerships emerged from the project, including area faith communities, local Boy Scout Troops, playwright groups, as well as descendants of Chews and their enslaved workers. By offering a safe, respectful place to discuss race, history, and memory, the site has grown the communities of people who see themselves in the stories of Cliveden.