Built between 1855 and 1859, this house was purchased in 1877 by Frederick Douglass, the African American abolitionist publisher, orator, author, statesman, and champion of human rights. Recognized by many as the father of the civil rights movement, Douglass lived in the house until his death in 1895.
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 the "gentleman’s farm" purpose included the growing and tending of gardens, orchards, fruit, and nut trees that supplemented the diet of both the family and livestock. This livestock included horses, cows, chickens, and possibly goats and provided both food and labor.
The landscape's use 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 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 family.
In addition to memorializing an outstanding historical figure, the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site demonstrates the characteristics of a romantic cottage in natural surroundings. While the landscape has been altered over time, it retains much of its historical integrity. The site is one of national importance—at the time that Douglass lived here, he was one of the most widely known and respected African Americans in DC and in the entire nation. Operated today by the National Park Service, the site preserves Douglass' legacy as an abolitionist and a civil rights leader.
DC Inventory: November 8, 1964
National Register: October 15, 1966 (documented March 24, 1969)
National Capital Park: September 5, 1962
National Historic Site: June 25, 1964
National Underground Railroad Network: May 17, 2001