Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (Cedar Hill; Van Hook Mansion)

The property is significant for its association with Frederick Douglass, the African American abolitionist, publisher, orator, author, statesman, reformer and champion of human rights who is generally recognized as the father of the civil rights movement.

The Frederick Douglass home, built in 1855-1859, was purchased by the famous abolitionist and statesman, Frederick Douglass, in 1877 and served as his residence until his death in 1895. Douglass made several alterations to the building in the 1890s, including two wing additions and a number of outbuildings. The property was restored in 1962‑1964.

The landscape of Cedar Hill during the historic period included usage as a “gentleman’s” farm (as opposed to a working farm), a family home, and a retreat. Uses of the landscape relating to a gentleman’s farm included the growing and tending of gardens, orchards, fruit, and nut trees that supplemented the diet of both the family and livestock. Livestock, including horses, cows, chickens and possibly goats, were sources for food and labor.

The landscape as a retreat was partially manifested in Douglass’ use of fragrant and flowering plants to enhance the home’s surroundings. Douglass was well known as an admirer of nature, and memoirs of the landscape from Douglass’ time agree that plantings recall his use of ostentatious annuals, perennials, vines, and shrubs. Douglass and his guests prized wooded sections of the landscape for their wildness. The unique setting, size, vegetated quality of the property, and the juxtaposition of the wooded setting in relation to the urban landscape rendered it a desirable destination for friends, family and associates of the Douglass’.

Cedar Hill demonstrates the characteristics of a romantic cottage in natural surroundings. While the landscape has been altered over time, it does retain historic integrity for the period of significance. The property’s role in housing Frederick Douglass and his family during the time when Douglass was one of the most well known African Americans in Washington, D.C. and the nation lends it a high degree of historic significance at the national level.

National Capital Park: September 5, 1962
National Historic Site: June 25, 1964
DC Inventory: November 8, 1964
National Register: October 15, 1966 (documented March 24, 1969)
Included as part of the National Underground Railroad Network: May 17, 2001

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14th & W Streets, SE