by Sue Ann Rybak
David Young, executive director of Cliveden of the National Trust, is leaving after 12 years as the administrator of a 1767 mansion built for the Benjamin Chew family that became the site of the Battle of Germantown in 1777.
A statement emailed by Ted Reed, Cliveden board chair, and Young, said it had been a privilege to work together since 2006.
“Cliveden has become an active partner in the revitalization of Greater Germantown, and a place where meaningful engagement with important topics in our nation’s history are a regular feature,” the email said. “It has been rewarding to make history useful to our surrounding neighborhood, while also serving as stewards of a site that is one of America’s great historic places and a jewel in the portfolio of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Cliveden’s staff and the board have worked hard together to make Cliveden a valued partner in our community.”
Young, a Germantown resident, has accepted a position as CEO of the Delaware Historical Society. His last day will be June 15. Reed said that in the interim Cliveden will continue to offer “dynamic programs,” including a run of “Liberty to Go See” in honor of Juneteenth, the anniversary of the passage and ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that commemorates the end of slavery. The play’s title quotes a letter from Joseph, [a slave] writing to Benjamin Chew for “liberty to go to see” his wife on another plantation.
Young, 54, said six years ago Cliveden invited the Philadelphia Young Playwrights to work with historians, members of the board and staff to create the script, which is produced by the New Freedom Theatre. It was the winner of the 2016 National Leadership in History Award from the American Association of State and Local History. It is directed by award-winning actor and director Johnnie Hobbs and takes place in the Cliveden Main House. It is narrated by James Smith, a free African American servant.
Young said he is passionate about “finding ways to give life to history.” He said the idea for the play came from a suggestion from the community to reenact scenes from the plantation records.
“In a national climate where everyone complains that there are too many house museums, we have found new ways to give life to them,” he said. “I think it’s a dynamic time to be in one because we are using technology in new ways. Cliveden is the story of America in the sense that American history is difficult.”
He said Cliveden wants “to be a place that tells the truth,” including history that may not reflect well on them.
Young, said he is proud of “how many people feel they have a sense of ownership [to Cliveden] – the Boy Scouts, the young playwrights, the actors.”
“They are all stewards and they all feel like their interpretation of Cliveden matters,” he said.
He said the “Cliveden Conservations” series started as a way to engage the community, get different perspectives and “make sense of” the Chew Family’s “provocative documents.” He said through feedback from a variety of community members, Cliveden has been able to slowly create “a shared history.” He said feedback from the community is used to plan and shape programs and preservation priorities at the site.
Cliveden’s Living Kitchens, a historic interpretation project supported by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage that involves the community in preservation and programming for two kitchens located on the property – the 1767 Kitchen Dependency and 1959 Mid-Century Modern “Kitchen of the Future – is another example of how Young’s leadership and energy has helped to breathe life into the over 250-year-old historic site.
In an earlier statement, Young said, “This discovery/recovery project will encourage people to consider history differently as they experience Cliveden’s two kitchens, along with their own personal history. Virtually, everyone has associations and memories related to kitchens. By sharing the project’s archaeological, architectural and social research, we will involve the public in the restoration and program goals for experiencing the spaces and explore together how kitchen history can inform contemporary issues, such as social mobility, food justice, and gender roles in America.
“Cliveden’s Living Kitchens invites the community to join us ‘at the table’ to deepen our understanding of race, history and memory, and strengthen the foundation for community renewal in Germantown.”
He said it has been an honor and a privilege to represent a site on behalf of the National Trust and Historic Preservation.
“Cliveden understands its role as a community leader,” he said. “One of the first things I did when I first got here was to co-found a business improvement district in Mt. Airy, so the nonprofit history sector could be seen as important a player as the business association. So, while it has taken a variety of forms, the idea has been to make Cliveden a force for good in the neighborhood, not just a noun behind a gate.
“What’s satisfying to me is when someone says, ‘There is always something new happening at Cliveden,’ because nobody talks about house museums anymore.”
He said that together the board, staff and community have “changed Cliveden from a shrine to a forum.”
Prior to Young’s tenure at Cliveden, he was executive director for the Johnson House Historic Site in Germantown, one of the few intact stops on the Underground Railroad, and the Salem County Historical Society in Salem, N. J. He has also served as president of Historic Germantown, a partnership of 16 extraordinary historic houses, destinations, and museums in Northwest Philadelphia that have joined together to protect, preserve, and share some of Philadelphia’s prized historical assets.
Reed said the Cliveden staff and board will continue to offer great programs in the future, including the reenactment of the Battle of Germantown on Oct. 6.
“We look to the future as we formulate a search process for the next executive director,” he said.
For more information about Cliveden, go to www.cliveden.org.