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Arlington


Virginia

Arlington House and National Cemetery

On a Virginia hillside rising above the Potomac River and overlooking Washington, D.C., stands Arlington House. The 19th-century mansion, which was intended as a living memorial to George Washington, was built and occupied by the first president's adopted grandson, George Washington Parke Custis.
Custis was considered the preeminent citizen of Arlington County from the beginning of the century until his death in 1857.

Historical Information

The mansion, which was intended as a living memorial to George Washington, was owned and constructed by the first president's adopted grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, son of John Parke Custis who himself was a child of Martha Washington by her first marriage and a ward of George Washington. Arlington won out as a name over Mount Washington, which is what George Washington Parke Custis first intended calling the 1,100-acre tract of land that he had inherited at the death of his father when he was 3.

Arlington won out because it was the name of the Custis family ancestral estate in the Virginia tidewater area. Custis hired George Hadfield, an English architect who came to Washington in 1785 to help construct the U.S. Capitol, to design his estate.The Greek revival structure which Hadfield designed took Custis 16 years to complete.

The north wing was the first structure completed in 1802. It was in this building that Custis made his home, with a significant portion of it used to store George Washington memorabilia Custis was acquiring with regularity. Among the items purchased and stored in the north wing were portraits, Washington's personal papers and clothes, and the command tent which the president had used at Yorktown.

Even after the completion of the south wing in 1804, Arlington House was still only a set of detached buildings. With the completion of the central section in 1818, the house stretched 140 feet from the north to the south wing. The central section contained a formal dining room and sitting room, a large hall and a parlor. One of the most recognizable of the section's features are the eight columns of the exterior portico, each 5 feet in diameter at the base.

George Washington Parke Custis and his wife, Mary Lee Fitzhugh (whom he had married in 1804), lived in Arlington House for the rest of their lives and were buried together on the property after their deaths in 1857 and 1853, respectively. They are buried in their original graves in Section 13, at map grid N-30. On June 30, 1831, Custis' only child, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, married her childhood friend and distant cousin, Robert E. Lee. Lee was the son of former three-term Virginia Governor Henry ("Light Horse Harry") Lee and was himself a graduate of West Point.

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A close up view of Arlington House
A close up view of Arlington House

   
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Document Information
Source: Arlington National Cemetery
Last modified: 20070503
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