Arlington House, located on a high hill within Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia, is one of many national park sites along the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Built by George Washington Parke Custis between 1802 and 1818 to serve as a memorial to his step-grandfather, George Washington, the house is now associated more with the man who married into the family and lived there for 30 years—Civil War General Robert E. Lee.
In April of 1861, two days after choosing to fight for the Confederacy and writing his resignation letter to the U.S. Army at his desk on the second floor of Arlington House, Lee left the house to join the Confederate Army, never to return.
During the war, Lee’s wife and family were forced to evacuate the house, which was taken over and used as a military headquarters by Union forces. Graffiti written in the attic and closets of the house by the troops stationed there can still be seen today.
In what may be seen as originally an act of spite against Robert E. Lee, the Union started burying their dead along the border of Mrs. Lee’s rose garden in 1864. That same year, 200 acres of the former plantation were declared as a national cemetery. Arlington National Cemetery today occupies just over half of the 1100 acres of the original Arlington plantation.
In another ironic twist, the grounds of Arlington House, formerly home to 63 slaves, became the site of Freedmen’s Village in 1863, a settlement for the recently liberated slaves of the District of Columbia. The village population would grow into the hundreds until the government in the late 1880s disbanded the settlement.
—Tracey McIntire, NPCA
If You Go > >
Arlington House is currently undergoing renovations and all furnishings have been removed. Tours of the house are still available and work is expected to be completed by 2010.