Beyond the Gate: The Johnson Street Sidewalk

benjamin chew silhouette
Silhouette of Benjamin Chew, Sr. (1722-1810)

It might seem that Cliveden is only responsible for the property inside the fence but, like any property owner in Philadelphia, Cliveden also has to take care of the sidewalks. Three of the four sidewalks surrounding the property are modern concrete, but the Johnson Street sidewalk is the original circa 1859 herringbone pattern brick sidewalk laid when Johnson Street was built. A century earlier, Benjamin Chew, Sr. (1722-1810) was the recorder for the city and jointly published a notice specifically about sidewalk care.

Philadelphia City, November 1, 1769

By the Mayor, Recorder, Aldermaen, and the Commissioners for paving the Streets, &c, All Owners of Houses and Lots, fronting on those Streets where the Cartway has been paved, who dwell in this City, and the Tenants of those landlords who reside elsewhere, are hereby ordered and enjoined to pave or repair, as the Case may require, with good well burnt Bricks, or good square flat Stones, the Footway and Gutters of their respective Fronts, according to Regulation; and the Gutter to be made 22 Inches wide, and not exceeding 4 Inches deep; the Pavement to rise 7 Inches in 10 Feet from the inner Edge of the Gutters towards the Houses; and to provide and set up one sound, dressed Red Cedar Post, of the Length of 7 Feet, and the Thickness of 6 Inches Heart at least, for every 10 to 12 Feet Front, and to compleat [sic] the same before the 15th Day of May next, if they would avoid the Penalties by Law directed to be levied on such as shall refuse or neglect to obey this Order.

S, Shoemaker, Mayor,                         Henry Drinker,

Benjamin Chew, Recorder,               William Wishart,

Jacob Duché,                                             John Mifflin,

Isaac Jones,                                                Thomas Tilbury,

Samuel Mifflin,                                           Samul Bryan,

                                                                             John Chevalier,

The sidewalk has deteriorated as freeze-thaw cycles and drainage heaved the brick paving. Additionally, cars frequently park on the sidewalk and a car accident further disrupted the pavement, making it unsafe for pedestrian traffic. Cliveden has a responsibility and made a promise to the community of engagement and revitalization. Our immediate neighborhood is a result of the subdivision of Cliveden property sold by the Chew family to settle the estate of Benjamin Chew Jr. (1758-1844) and the development boon that took place in Germantown.

The project started with William Penn Charter students doing a preliminary cleanup of litter and overgrowth removal. The contractors Hansen General Services leveled and laid new paving sand for the length of the path, 80 feet. They then salvaged and reused intact historic bricks and sourced additional old bricks to supplement restoration to re-lay the existing herringbone pattern.

Now that the project is complete, thanks in part to Historic Germantown’s Saving Our Sites grant, the Johnson Street sidewalk is now safe for pedestrian use. Cliveden looks forward to working with our Johnson Street neighbors in being co-stewards of the Victorian-era sidewalk.