Seven things most Americans don’t know about the Arlington House

Arlington House above the national cemetery (National Park Service)

Historic home of Gen. Robert E. Lee overlooks Arlington National Cemetery

Visit by John F. Kennedy in 1963 prompted First Lady Jackie Kennedy to decide on burial site


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Here are seven things most Americans do not know about Arlington House, the historic home of Gen. Robert E. Lee located at Arlington National Cemetery.

  1. Arlington House was originally built as a monument to honor President George Washington, modeled after the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens, Greece. It was built by Washington’s step grandson (his first adopted son) George Washington Parke Custis and his slaves.


  2. Robert E. Lee married into the Custis family, and Arlington House became his family estate from 1831 to 1861. This was where Lee wrote his resignation from the U.S. Army to join the Confederacy.


  3. Quartermaster General Montogmery Meigs, whose son was killed in battle by Confederate soldiers, secured approval to begin building a military cemetery on the grounds in the hopes that it would render the home uninhabitable and dissuade Lee from returning after the war. He would never return to the house.


  4. Selina Gray, a slave, was left in charge to care for Arlington House and its heirlooms from the Washington family when the Lee family evacuated. When Union soldiers took over the site, Gray confronted soldiers over stolen objects and convinced a commander to safeguard the house and family treasures.


  5. The home’s builder, George Washington Parke Custis, was also an artist. His 200-year-old frescos have been preserved on the walls, and he painted a large mural of George Washington at the Battle of Monmouth that remains in the house.


  6. View of Lee House from John F. Kennedy grave site. (NL)

    Lee’s son, George Washington Custis Lee, eventually sued the government for illegally seizing the property. The Supreme Court ruled in his favor, and Lee sold the property back to the government for $150,000.

  7. President John F. Kennedy made an unannounced visit to Arlington House in March 1963 and marveled at the hilltop view overlooking the nation’s capital. That visit led to Jacqueline Kennedy’s decision to have her husband buried below the house with a similar view from Arlington National Cemetery, despite family wishes to have Kennedy buried in Massachusetts.

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