Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site preserves the home and legacy of Frederick Douglass, former slave who became one of the most influential men of the 19th century. Douglass was a leading abolitionist, newspaper editor, civil rights advocate, author, orator, and statesmen. The Victorian-style home was built between 1855 and 1859 for John Van Hook. Douglass purchased the home in 1877 with the aid of Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company. Douglass and his wife Anna moved into the home in 1878 after he received an appointment as the marshal for the District of Columbia. Frederick Douglass lived in the home until his death in 1895. It was acquired by the National Park Service in 1962.
Backstory and Context
Frederick Douglass is among the most important individuals in United States history. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, Douglass became an internationally renowned abolitionist; he was also a social reformer, writer, and a firm believer in the equality of all peoples. Following the Civil War, as well as his appointment as the marshal for the District of Columbia and the stable income it brought, Douglass and his first wife, Anna, moved to Cedar Hill and lived in the lavish Victorian home.
The home atop Cedar Hill was originally built between 1855 and 1859 for John Welsh Van Cook, an architect who later helped developed Uniontown, known as Anacostia today. The Freedmen’s Savings and Trust company purchased the home in 1877, but in September of that year, Douglass bought the property, paying $6,700 (equivalent to about $152,300 today). During his time at the home, Douglass made several additions, converting it into a 21-room mansion. The renovations included the construction of a two-story, wood-framed addition at the back of the house. The kitchen was made into a dining room and a new kitchen was added to the south wing. Upstairs a partition, which divided two rooms on the west side of the house, was removed and replaced by two walls to make three smaller bedrooms. The attic was also finished and added five more rooms. Douglass also built a new library and another bedroom on the second story.
After Douglass's death, his wife Helen partnered with Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association who partnered with the National Association of Colored Women to complete the first restoration of the Douglass Home in 1922. In 1962, the Frederick Douglass home and Cedar Hill became part of the National Park system; ten years later, after several restorations, the house officially reopened to the public.
Today, the Frederick Douglass Historic Site pays tribute to Douglass’s life and work, and visitors can find many authentic artifacts, furniture, and other home furnishings, most of which are virtually untouched. Furthermore, the historic site provides exceptional educational opportunities for anyone looking to learn more about Frederick Douglass and his social efforts.