George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Washington and adopted son of George Washington built Arlington House. His slaves and hired craftsmen constructed the house in stages from 1802-1818.

As young boy Custis had lived at Mount Vernon after the death of his father. As an adult, Custis wanted his home to be a living memorial to the President. He filled it with Washington china, portraits, and other Mount Vernon heirlooms.

The Lees and Arlington House

Arlington House was located on a high bluff surrounded by a forest of oaks and a 1,100 acre plantation. The Greek Revival design features a two-story central section framed by a Doric columned portico, and flanked north and south by lower wings. Custis is believed to have had George Hadfield, a young English architect draw plans for his house. Hadfield had studied in Italy, and had supervised part of the construction of the US Capitol.

Custis began work on the north wing in 1802 using materials from his estates. This wing was divided into living quarters and temporary space for the Washington treasures. The south wing was completed in 1804. It contained a large parlor and a smaller room that served as an office and study. That year, during its construction, Cornelia Lee, a relative, noted, “The House will be a very showy handsome building when complete.” The main section with its great portico was completed in 1810. By then, Arlington House dominated the Virginia horizon opposite the nation’s capitol, three miles away.

The Lees and Arlington House
My affections and attachments are more strongly placed than at any other place in the world.-Robert E. Lee
After Robert E. Lee moved to Alexandria, Virginia in 1810, he often visited Arlington, and saw the house under construction. This house was home during much of his adult life. Lee spent many of his happiest occasions here. Today Arlington House is preserved as a memorial to Robert E. Lee in honor of his dedication to peace and reconciliation after the Civil War.

In 1831, Custis’ daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, married Lt. Robert E. Lee at Arlington. Six of their seven children were born in the house. Three generations of the family lived happily at Arlington for over twenty years. In 1861, Lee resigned from the US Army at Arlington House after he learned that Virginia had seceded from the United States in the opening days of the Civil War. His decision ultimately cost the family their beloved home. The Lees left Arlington in the spring of 1861 never to return. The US Army occupied the home throughout the war.


For more information on Arlington House, go to the NPS Historic American Buildings Survey database.