Standing tall on the most prominent hill in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington House is uniquely linked to all the major events in American History. The Mansion was built by George Washington Parke Custis over 200 years ago as the first memorial to George Washington. Custis commissioned George Hadfield, second architect of the U.S. Capitol building and designer of the Washington City Hall, to design a mansion modeled on the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens. . Composed of a two-story central section flanked by two one-story wings, Arlington House was begun in 1802 and completed in 1818. According to architectural historian Ralph Hammett, this was only the third representation of Greek revival style in the United States at the time.
Arlington House was also a plantation where 70 enslaved African Americans lived and worked. Arlington House was inherited by Mary Custis Lee, wife of Robert E. Lee, in 1856 and contains the desk where Lee wrote his fated letter of resignation from the U.S. Army in 1861 at the outbreak of the Civil War. Occupied by the U.S. Army in April, 1861, after the Lees had fled, Arlington House became the burial ground of thousands of Union soldiers who died during the Civil War. Over the years, Arlington National Cemetery has become the final resting place for over 400,000 veterans and their eligible dependents. In 1933, Congress designated Arlington House as a memorial to honor Robert E. Lee for his role in promoting reunion, reconciliation, and healing after the Civil War.
Currently, Americans are feverishly debating the meaning of our shared national history, including the significance of the institution of slavery as part of that history. We have no idea where this current debate is heading and how it will be resolved. But one truth stands very clear: the preservation and restoration of our historic treasures is absolutely essential. Arlington House is such a place.
Today, the work of the Arlington House Foundation is more vital than ever. Partnering with the National Park Service, AHF's mission is bold and inclusive: to assist the National Park Service to preserve and restore the Mansion, its adjacent historic slave quarters and the nearby gardens as a way of educating the public about its history and significance. To understand the history of Arlington House is to better understand the meaning of America. We are the only private organization which exists to carry out this mission. We urge you to generously partner with us in preserving this important part of our national heritage.