A Brief History of Cedar Hill
New Home is Built
• The house was built between 1855 and 1859 by John Van Hook, an architect from Philadelphia, PA. The house consisted of between 6 to 14 rooms.
• In 1854 Van Hook partnered with John Fox and John Dobler and formed the Union Land Association whose offices were in the Van Hook home. These developers purchased 100 acres of farmland to form a new subdivision called Uniontown (today Anacostia).
Douglass at Cedar Hill
• On September 1, 1877, Douglass paid $6,700 to the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust company for the home and 9 and ¾ acres of land.
• 1878 - Douglass purchased an additional 5 and ¾ acres of land from Ella R. Talburtt.
• Douglass moved into the home with his first wife, Anna Murray Douglass, during the fall of 1878.
• Following the death of Anna, Douglass married Helen Pitts Douglass in January 1884 and resided with her at his Cedar Hill residence until his death on February 20, 1895.
• Douglass made a series of additions to his Cedar Hill home, dating from 1877 to 1893. By the time of his death, the home was converted into a 21 room mansion.
• The improvements most likely made between 1877 and 1878 included the construction of a two-story, wood-framed addition at the rear of the house. The original kitchen was converted 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 create three smaller bedrooms. Finally, during this period, the attic was finished to create five additional rooms.
• Other additions were made to the home throughout the years and included the building of a new library around 1886 and the addition of a second story bedroom between 1892 and 1893.
Cedar Hill after Douglass’ Death
• In 1900, at the urging of Helen Pitts Douglass, the U.S. Congress chartered the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association (FDMHA). Upon Helen’s death in 1903, the FDMHA received the property.
• The FDMHA partnered with the National Association of Colored Women to complete the first restoration of the Douglass Home in 1922.
• The FDMHA later petitioned the federal government to become involved in the preservation of Cedar Hill.
• On September 5, 1962, the Frederick Douglass estate became a unit of the National Park Service. Plans for restoration were put forth in 1962.
• The NPS restoration project was completed in January of 1972. The house officially reopened to the public on February 14, 1972.
• September, 1980, groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the addition of a visitor center. The center was completed and opened to the public in February of 1982.
• The current restoration began in March of 2004 and the site officially reopened to the public on February 14, 2007.
Did You Know?
Family was a big part of Frederick Douglass' life at Cedar Hill. By the 1890s his four surviving children (a fifth had died as a baby) all lived in Washington, D.C. Between them they eventually gave Douglass twenty one grand kids, filling the halls of Cedar Hill with noise and activity. Douglass can be seen here with his grandson Joseph, who went on to become a famous violinist.