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Arlington Memorial & Arlington House

 By John T. Marck

              The Arlington House is very historic and famous for its association with two famous families, that of Washington and Lee.

            George Washington Parke Custis inherited the 1100-acre estate known as Arlington, from his father, who was the only surviving son of Martha Washington.  He, like John Parke Custis, was raised at Mount Vernon, but spent the better part of his life to perpetuating the memory of George Washington.

            G.W.P. Custis commissioned architect George Hadfield, who was the second architect of the US Capitol, to design Arlington House. In 1803, Custis built two wings and in 1818, Hadfield’s design was placed between them.  The house was built using locally made brick and its most prominent feature is its 16 foot by 52 foot portico that scans the central section. The portico was made by forming eight large stuccoed and marbleized brick Doric columns that support a massive central pediment.  Arlington House, which is situated atop a hill, can be seen from miles away from many parts of Washington.

            Its association with the Lee’s is that Robert E. Lee was related to Custis’s wife, and was a frequent visitor to Arlington from his childhood until he married Custis’s only daughter, Mary. Over the following approximately 30 years, Robert E. Lee and his family considered Arlington House their home.  This changed abruptly on April 19, 1861, when from his bedroom, Robert E. Lee made his fateful decision to resign his US Army commission, rather than take up arms against his beloved Virginia, following its secession from the Union.  On April 22, 1861, he left Arlington House forever.

            During the Civil War, in 1863, the US Congress levied a tax on all confiscated properties, which included Arlington House. Payment for this tax was attempted, but was rejected, and the house was put up for sale for non-payment of taxes in January 1864.  The US government purchased it, and in May 1864, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton ordered that a national cemetery be established at Arlington, and the first burials took place that month.

            In 1928, after being authorized by Congress as a memorial to General Lee, restoration on Arlington House began by the War Department.  In 1933, the house and grounds was transferred to the National Park Service. Upon this change, some of the structural changes that had been made since 1861 were reversed, taking the house back to its original splendor.  Many of the rooms at that time were partially furnished, and since then to present day, all restoration has been completed.

            Arlington House is located in Arlington, Virginia, just across the Bridge from the Lincoln Memorial.  Visitors may tour with a self-guided brochure. Service staff in period costume is stationed in the main areas to answer questions and talk informally. Guided tours are available by appointment for groups from October through March. The Memorial is open from 9:30 am to 4:30 p.m. Closed Christmas and New Years Day.

Copyright 1993-2022 by John T. Marck.  Information in part compliments of the National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places. Some passages taken directly from the National Park Service.