Living Kitchens at Cliveden


Click HERE for Interview with Libbie Hawes, Cliveden’s Preservation Director, on the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage Website.

Click HERE for Kitchen Conversations

Click HERE for Community Exhibition 


Living Kitchens at Cliveden is a historic interpretation project supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage that involves the community in preservation and programming for two kitchens at Cliveden.



The 1767 Kitchen Dependency (left) was built separately from the main house. Research indicates the Kitchen Dependency was also used as living quarters for enslaved people. The 1959 pre-fabricated Mid-Century Modern Kitchen (right) was built when Sam and Babbie Chew decided to renovate sections of the home and is located in a former colonnade that connected the main house with the 1767 Kitchen Dependency.

Kitchens are a unique indicator of social and cultural change. Cliveden’s kitchens reflect the evolution of a household over 200 years. By juxtaposing the simultaneous examination of the two kitchens, the project will explore how the past informs the present. For diagrams of the evolution of the 1767 Kitchen Dependency and 1959 Mid-Century Modern Kitchen, click HERE.

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                                                 Peopling the Kitchens at Cliveden

Russell & Elmira Saunders mid-20th c caretakers croppedMembers of the Chew family lived at Cliveden until 1972, and well into the 20thAbigail VanderLek Cropped square century, Cliveden continued to be cared for by a number of service staff. In 1959 the staff included a cook, laundress, cleaning woman, chauffeur and gardener. 

Abdul Receed was an Indian cook who worked for the Chew family in the 1959 kitchen. Abdul lived in the apartment in the Kitchen Dependency.

Russell and Elmira Saunders (left), began working at Cliveden in 1966. Russell was responsible for general tasks around the house and Elmira replaced Abdul as cook. The couple lived on site, first on the third floor of the house and later in the kitchen wing. They remained caretakers after Cliveden was transferred to the National Trust in 1972, and retired in 1981. For a list of known service staff at Cliveden from 1768 to 1966 click HERE.

Currently Cliveden’s kitchens are filled with architects and historians. At right Architectural Designer Abigail VanderLek of KSK Architects Planners Historians is taking measurements for the Conditions Survey of the 1767 Kitchen Dependency.

                                                  Responses from the Community

 Recent Kitchen Conversations

Doug Sanders Photo“Coming to Terms with Slavery’s Kitchen-Quarters” with Doug Sanford

Doug Sanford discussed kitchen-quarters, slave households, and how African Americans transformed these buildings and their surrounding yards into important spaces for family and community.  He will also speak about Virginia Slave Housing project’s efforts to promote public awareness of the architecture of American slavery. The evening included a light meal of Ham Biscuits with assorted condiments including Pimento Cheese & Hot Pepper Jelly, and Raisin Bread Pudding prepared by Chef Valerie Erwin.

“The Food Axis: Cooking, Eating, and 1950s Domestic Architecture” with Elizabeth Cromley, Ph.D. Betsy C best cropped jpg

Professor Cromley illustrated the evolution of the cooking and dining parts of American houses from earlier 20th century patterns to the new ideas of the 1950s. Changes in family eating patterns, furnishings for dining and kitchen spaces, cooking and preserving food, new tastes in materials and colors, and inventions in foodways all contributed to a sense of modernity. The 1950s were on the table with Soda Pop and Dipwiches prepared by Chef Valerie Erwin.

wine“The Cup That Cheers: Drinking in the 18th Century” with Dr. Gretchen Sorin

On December 4, 2015, Cliveden hosted Dr. Gretchen Sorin, Director and Distinguished Professor of Museum Studies of the Cooperstown Graduate Program. Dr. Sorin talked about drinking habits in the 18th century. We learned that the Chew family, founding fathers, and their peers would have chosen to drink spirituous beverages rather than water because clean drinking water was a rarity. As part of the program, Dr. Sorin led a wine tasting complete with period accurate crackers made by the Germantown Youth Volunteers.

deetz“Cookin’ for the Big House: Slavery, Race, Gender, & the Kitchen Axis” with Dr. Kelley Deetz

On November 20, 2015 Dr. Kelley Deetz  presented a lecture on her book Virginia’s Enslaved Plantation Cooks and their Kitchens. Dr. Deetz is the Research Associate for the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University at the University of Virginia. This Kitchen Conversation focused on the social dynamics of entertainment, feasting, and the labor demands from multiple perspectives. To emphasize connections with trade in enslaved people and the Caribbean, a Caribbean meal of jerk chicken, rice & peas, cabbage and banana pudding was prepared by the K & J Caribbean American Diner, a family owned business at 5603 Greene Street in Germantown.

Joe McGill Hdsht 2nd sv crppd square

“They Lived Where They Worked” with Joe McGill

Joe McGill is the founder of The Slave Dwelling Project, Inc. and came to Cliveden on October 30, 2015 to talk about his experiences and sleep in the 1767 Kitchen Dependency–that’s right, sleep! Mr. McGill conducts his research by sleeping in slave dwellings, to date in 15 states. The purpose of his research is to better understand and bring attention to the remaining living spaces used by enslaved people. The event included a buffet of South Carolina Geechee cuisine by Chef Valerie Erwin, owner of the Geechee Girl Cafe formerly in Mt. Airy.

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