Benjamin Chew purchased Cliveden in Germantown as a summer retreat for his family, constructing from 1763 to 1767. Except for a brief period between 1779 and 1797, the Chews continued to occupy Cliveden for seven generations.
Benjamin Chew Jr. inherited Cliveden in 1810 and expanded the grounds to 66 acres. When Benjamin Chew Jr. died in 1844, the family fought bitterly over Cliveden’s ownership. His son, the family villain “Bad Ben,” attempted to disinherit his other siblings as executors of their father’s estate, including Cliveden. Bad Ben’s actions created a terrible breach in the family, finally ending with his death. This allowed his sister, Anne, to take over as the mistress of Cliveden in 1857 while her nephew, “Centennial” Sam Chew III, rescued important family relics that Ben had stolen. “Centennial” Sam invigorated the property’s prominence, and Cliveden became identified as a national monument. In 1966, Cliveden was designated a National Historic Landmark, and later, a part of the Colonial Germantown Historic District. In 1972, the Chew family transferred ownership of Cliveden, its remaining 5.5 acres, and its collection of artifacts to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Although alterations were made over the years, Benjamin Chew’s 18th-century house remains remarkably intact. In 1867-68 Anne Chew added a two-story wing to the rear, but designed it so that it could not be seen from the front of her grandfather’s house. In the 1950s, Cliveden’s last private owner, Samuel Chew V, tucked in closets, bathrooms, a modern kitchen, and built a patio and swimming pool to accommodate his young family.