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Frederick Douglass House


Frederick Douglass House
Tania Anderson

Frederick Douglass, the famous abolitionist and orator, spent the last 17 years of his life living in a house in Washington called Cedar Hill. He moved to the city with his wife and four children after he was appointed U.S. Marshal of the District of Columbia. The home that he lived in with his children and first and second wives is off the beaten path of most major Washington attractions but it’s well worth a visit.

Visitors can tour the grounds and the visitor’s center on their own but for a tour of the inside of the home, reservations must be made in advance. The tour is given by a National Park ranger and lasts about 30 minutes.

WHAT YOU SEE: Frederick Douglass’ home has 21 rooms over more than 6,000 square feet of space. The guided tour takes you through most of the rooms, with the except of an attic and basement. The front foyer of the Victoria style home is where visitors enter and it’s in the front foyer where Douglass collapsed and died on Feb. 20, 1895.

Each of the rooms has some original pieces from when Douglass lived, including his shoes, china, his Panama hat, and staircase handrails. You can see the room where Douglass received guests, including the many Howard University students who visited the abolitionist. The formal room has a large portrait of Douglass, thought to be the most accurate representation of how he looked. He also spent a great deal of time entertaining his grandchildren in a less formal living room and a study with a large portrait of Abraham Lincoln.

A large dining room in the middle of the house shows some of his original china collection and the wheeled chair he sat on. Douglass was very animated during dinners and the wheels on the chair helped him get to his feet quickly.

The tour also takes visitors upstairs where you’ll see a trunk room that has an original trunk that Douglass used for his world travels. There’s also the room where he slept and the room where his first wife slept and eventually died in after a second stroke. His second wife, who he married two years later, used the room next door.

Douglass’ bedroom, across the hall, has some of his original pieces like his shoes and hat and some weights he used for work-outs on the front lawn.

Arrive 20 minutes before your tour so you can catch a short movie that explains a little about Douglass’ life.

GOOD FOR KIDS: Kids will learn quite a bit about Douglass’ life and times, as well as the way people lived during the late 1800s. They’ll enjoy touring the house as long as they stay behind the roped off areas, as well as the expansive grounds.

GIFT SHOP: The visitor center, which is where the tour meets, has a small gift shop with lots of books about Douglass, the Civil War, and slavery for kids and adults. There’s also some small items like book marks, coffee mugs, and scrolls of famous speeches by Douglass and Sojourner Truth.

WHERE: 1411 W St., SE, Washington, DC. The house is located in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington.

HOURS OF OPERATION: The site is open daily except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Between April 1 and October 31, the park is open 9 AM to 5 PM. Between November 1 and March 31, the park is open 9 AM to 4:30 PM.

COST: It’s free to visit the Visitor’s Center and grounds. But a tour needs to be reserved in advance and costs $1.50 per ticket. Reservations can be made online at http://www.recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777.

PARKING: There’s a large, free parking lot next to the Visitor’s Center.

WEBSITE/TELEPHONE NUMBER: http://www.nps.gov/frdo/index.htm; 202-426-5961.

SPECIAL NOTE: The house is up on a hill and there’s a good number of steps to climb to get up to the front of the house. The alternative is to come around the driveway, which loops to the back of the house. Also you can take photos in the house but you can’t use a flash.

WHAT’S CLOSE BY: Anacostia Community Museum, a small Smithsonian museum that has rotating art exhibits and one permanent exhibit on the Negro Baseball League.

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