Built between 1855 and 1859, Frederick Douglass purchased this suburban Anacostia estate (Cedar Hill) in 1877. The African American abolitionist, publisher, orator, author, statesman, and champion of human rights lived in the home until his death in 1895. Recognized by many as the father of the civil rights movement, Douglass's home provided a space for his active political life and close family ties.
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--all of whom 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 various annuals, perennials, vines, and shrubs around his property. The juxtaposition of the wooded setting in relation to the urban landscape also contributed to the allure of Cedar Hill. Douglass and his guests prized the wooded sections of the landscape for their wildness. The unique setting, size and vegetation 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 emulates 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.
The site was first added to the National Register in 1966, but recent efforts have resulted in an amendment to the nomination. In 2020, the site's initial period of significance regarding Frederick Douglass's occupancy of the house (1877-1895) was expanded.
The period of significance now acknowledges Helen Pitts Douglass’s (Frederick Douglass’s second wife) initial efforts to preserve the home in 1895, and extends through 1964, when President John F. Kennedy legally rendered the Frederick Douglass Home an official part of the National Park System. This highlights the importance of 19th/20th century movements that worked to preserve African American Historic Sites.
The nomination also now includes the National Park Service's reconstructed "Growlery," a recreation of a building used by Frederick Douglass for writing and solitude. It is deemed essential to understanding Douglass's life at Cedar Hill.
DC Inventory: November 8, 1964 (Joint Committee on Landmarks)
DC Inventory (Additional Documentation/Boundary Increase): July 30, 2020
National Register: October 15, 1966 (documented on March 24, 1969)
National Register (Additional Documentation/Boundary Increase): December 30, 2022
National Capital Park: September 5, 1962
National Historic Site: June 25, 1964
National Underground Railroad Network: May 17, 2001