In a town known for its history, the best historic site might be its least well known. High on a hill overlooking the Anacostia River, a few miles from the Mall, sits the Frederick Douglass house (officially the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site).
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland. After escaping to New York as a young man, he rose to prominence as an orator, author, and publisher—becoming the most famous African American of the 18th century. Douglass was a leader in the abolitionist movement as publisher of The North Star newspaper. He convinced Abraham Lincoln to let African Americans fight for the Union during the Civil War, and served as a recruiter for the army.
Douglass purchased his home in the District’s Anacostia neighborhood when he was appointed to the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877. He lived there until he died in 1895, using it as respite to study, write, and entertain Washington society. After his death, Douglass’s wife, Helen Pitts Douglass, kept the house in its original condition, working tirelessly to turn it into a memorial and museum. Many of the items and furniture in the house belonged to Douglass. Walking through the house is like stepping back in time, without the stuffiness of museums or the crowds of more famous historic homes like nearby Mount Vernon or Monticello.
But the best part may be the view. A keen eye can spot the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the National Cathedral, and more. It gives you a view of the city you probably haven’t seen before. In warmer months, it’s a great place to linger and maybe have a picnic.
What’s more, Anacostia—which has an undeservedly bad reputation—is quickly becoming a hotspot for artists and performers. After the Douglass house, scope out the Honfleur Gallery, and the Anacostia Arts Center, which houses a theater, galleries, and clothing boutiques, as well as Nürish Food & Drink. Check Arts Center’s website for the schedule of performances, artist talks, and more. You can also stop by the newly reopened Big Chair Coffee and Grill, which is adding patio seating and live music this summer.
Whether you’re entertaining visitors who want something more than the usual tourist traps, or you just want to see a side of the city you’ve missed, a trip to the Frederick Douglass house is a slam dunk.