• Cedar Hill

    Frederick Douglass

    National Historic Site District of Columbia

Frequently Asked Questions

VISITING CEDAR HILL

Do I need reservations?
If you are visiting by yourself or with a group of less than 10 people, you do not need to make a reservation. However, the number of people we can take on a tour is limited, and tickets go quickly, so we highly recommend that you make a reservation to ensure that you get to see the house. If you have a group of 11 or more, you will not be able to see the house without a reservation. See our reservation page for more information.

Are you open on weekends? Holidays?
The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site is open 7 days a week. The Site is closed on January 1, Thanksgiving Day, and December 25. We are open on all other holidays. Occasionally weather or construction will force unscheduled closure.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS

Where is Frederick Douglass buried?
In section “A” of the Mount Hope Cemetery at Rochester, New York.
Why was Mr. Douglass buried in Rochester, New York instead of Washington, D.C.?
He was buried in the family plot. He had lived in Rochester, New York for 25 years, longer than he had lived anywhere else in his life.
What was Frederick Douglass’ source of income?
The bulk of his income came from his public speaking. But throughout his life, Douglass held many positions including: U.S. Minster to Haiti; Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia; author, newspaper publisher, U.S. Marshal to the District of Columbia, bank president, ship caulker and common laborer.
What were the names of the books and newspapers that were written or published by Frederick Douglass?
In Massachusetts, Douglass wrote his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845); his first newspaper, the North Star in Rochester, New York (1847-1851); re-named the North Star to Frederick Douglass’ Paper (1851-1860). He wrote his second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom in Rochester, New York (1855); again, he changed the title of his newspaper to Douglass’ Monthly (1860-1863). When he moved to Washington, D.C., he edited and owned the New National Era newspaper (1870-1874); he wrote his last autobiography at Cedar Hill, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881).
FAMILY
How many children did Frederick Douglass have?
Frederick Douglass and Anna Douglass had five children together. Rosetta, the oldest, Lewis, Frederick, Jr., Charles, and Annie the youngest. He and Helen had no children together.
How old was Anna Murray Douglass when she died and what was the cause of her death?
Anna died in 1882 at the age of 69 from complications of a second stroke.
Why did Frederick Douglass marry a white woman?
Helen Pitts was a well-educated and talented woman, who made the last years of Frederick Douglass’ life happy ones here at Cedar Hill. The marriage sparked criticism but when his motives were questioned, Douglass answered with the principle that guided his life, that color did not define or separate members of the human family.
Who was Helen Pitts and what did she accomplish during her lifetime?
Helen was born in 1838, in Honeoye, New York, a farming community in Ontario County, 40 miles south of Rochester. Her parents, Gideon and Jane Wells Pitts, were both abolitionists. Helen graduated from Mt. Holyoke Seminary in 1859. In the 1860’s, she taught at Hampton Institute. In 1880, she moved to Uniontown to live with her uncle, Hiram Pitts, whose home was adjacent to Cedar Hill. Helen was an employee at the Pension Office before working at the Recorder of Deeds office as a clerk in 1882. Frederick Douglass hired her for that position. She was an activist in the Women’s Rights Movement and collaborated with Caroline Winslow in the publication of a feminist newspaper, The Alpha. She was also an active member of the Holyoke Alumnae Association of Washington and board of managers of the Home for Colored Orphans. For many years she was an earnest student of Anthropology and a member of the Anthropological Society of the Capital City. In 1900, Helen formed the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association in order that the home and its contents might be maintained after her death. Just before her death in 1903, she said, “I do not wish this to be understood to be a colored movement, a movement by the colored people, but a movement by the people, for the people, regardless of color.”
CEDAR HILL
THE HOUSE
Was this Frederick Douglass’ first home in Washington, D.C.?
No. his first home was in Washington, D.C. were two row houses purchased on Capitol Hill, S.E. The addresses are 316 and 318 A Street, N.E., Washington, D.C.
In what year was the house built and who built it?
The house was built between 1855 and 1859. The builder’s name was John Van Hook, an architect and builder from Philadelphia, Pa.
How much did Frederick Douglass pay for the home?
On September 1, 1877, Frederick Douglass paid $6,700 to Freedmens Savings & Trust Company for a 9 ¼ acre estate.
Why did Frederick Douglass re-name the estate to Cedar Hill?
Initially known as “Van Hook’s Hill”, named after the man who built the house and owned the property, Douglass had changed the name because of the numerous cedar trees on the property.
ARCHITECTURE
Why did Mr. and Mrs. Douglass have separate bedrooms?
It was customary among wealthy individuals during the Victorian Era to provide each family member his or her own sleeping quarters. It was not only a sign of wealth, but proper etiquette.
Why are there two wives bedrooms?
After Anna’s death in her bedroom, Frederick Douglass wanted to honor her memory by not using her room again. When he remarried, Helen was given the bedroom next to Anna’s
ARTIFACTS
What percentage of the artifacts is original?
About 70 % of the artifacts are original.
Why is there a picture of Abraham Lincoln in the West Parlor?
Frederick Douglass was an adviser to President Lincoln, advising him on issues pertaining to the treatment of black soldiers in the Civil War and they also became friends. It was customary to hang pictures of people that were admired in one’s home.
What is the name of the man whose picture is hung in the East Parlor?
Senator Blanche K. Bruce from the state of Mississippi.
Who was the sculptor that did the bust of Frederick Douglass that sits in his bedroom?
The plaster bust of Douglass is a model after the original marble bust by Johnson Mundy (1831-1897). The marble bust is currently placed on view at Frederick Douglass Hall at the University of Rochester.
LIFE AT CEDAR HILL
How did Frederick Douglass dispose of the household trash?
The trash would be placed in woven baskets while in the house. Then some of the trash would be thrown down the pit in the outhouse and some would be fed to the farm animals.
How was Helen’s room heated?
Originally there was a fireplace located inside of the room. In the 1920s several fireplaces in the home, including the one in Helen’s room were removed to allow the installation of heat ducts when a furnace was installed in the home.
THE PROPERTY
Where was the well located?
The well was located southeast of the house near where the parking lot to the visitor center is now located.
What is a cistern and how many were on the property?
A cistern a well that is designed to capture and store rainwater. Though you could not consume the water, it was perfect for household chores. There was one cistern in the laundry room, which is approximately 9’6” in diameter and a height of 12’ from the bottom to the highest point of the dome top. There was also a cistern located near the stables on the backside of the property.
How high is the piece of land on which the house is sitting on?
Fifty-one feet above street level.
How many Outbuildings were on the property?
Seven: corncrib, barn, privy, carriage house, stables, Growlery and kitchen.
In what year was the Caretaker’s Cottage built and who was the Caretaker?
The cottage was built in 1922 to house small families to serve as the caretakers of the Cedar Hill property. Mrs. Gladys B. Parham was the last caretaker of Cedar Hill from 1965 until her death in 1983. She was known as “The Guardian Angel” of Cedar Hill, the last home of Frederick Douglass.
THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Where was Uniontown in relation to Cedar Hill?
100 acres in Anacostia was bought by the Union Land Association from Enoch Tucker’s 240-acre farm for $1,900 and sub divided in to lots to sell to people to build their homes on. 700 lots, 24 feet wide and 130 feet deep. The new subdivision was named Uniontown. It originally consisted of 15 square blocks, bounded by Harrison Street (Good Hope Road) on the north, Jefferson Street (W Street) on the south, Taylor Street (16th Street) on the east, and Monroe Street (Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue) on the west.
Had the Capitol been built during Douglass’s tenure at Cedar Hill?
Yes. The first section of the Capitol building was completed in 1800 and was completed by the time Douglass purchased the home.
AFTER DOUGLASS' DEATH
What was the role of the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association?
Prior to her death in 1903, Helen Pitts Douglass formed a non-profit organization called the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association. This organization, upon her death, would be deeded the home and all of its contents for the purpose of opening the home to the public to further the legacy of Frederick Douglass.
When did the house become a unit of the National Park Service?
The site was adopted and added to the National Park Service by Public Law 87-633, approved September 5, 1962.
After becoming a unit of the National Park Service when was the house first open to the public?
Restoration plans were set forth in 1962 and completed by January 1972. The house was officially opened to the public on February 14, 1972.

Did You Know?

Douglass Violin

Frederick Douglass played violin.