History of Arlington House Foundation
Arlington House Foundation was originally chartered in May, 2009 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit under the name of Save Historic Arlington House (SHAH). Its purpose was threefold: 1) promote the restoration, preservation and advancement of research and educational activities relating to the historic home of George Washington Parke Custis and Robert E. Lee; 2) support the efforts of its federal custodian, The National Park Service (NPS), to increase the veracity of the unique nineteenth century plantation visitor experience; and (3) raise funds for the historic Arlington House to the extent permitted under IRS rules. In 2015, SHAH was renamed Arlington House Foundation (AHF), although its Board and mission remained as before.
The galvanizing force behind the creation of SHAH was Wayne Parks, the great-grandson of James Parks1, an enslaved person at the Plantation who was manumitted in December 1862, by the will of George Washington Parke Custis. Wayne Parks had an enduring interest from early childhood in the home where his ancestors had been enslaved and, in January 2009, had arranged with NPS for a group of descendants of the enslaved to gather on the South Portico of Arlington House to observe the historic inauguration of Barack Obama.
Parks partnered with Gene Cross, a civil war historian2 and volunteer interpreter at Arlington House, to form a Board of Trustees for SHAH that included Robert E. Lee IV, General Montgomery Meigs3, Robert Poole, who wrote "On Hallowed Ground", the seminal history of Arlington National Cemetery and Elizabeth Pryor, nuanced biographer of Robert E. Lee. From the outset, the goal of the Wayne Parks and Gene Cross was to accurately portray the history of the Custis and Lee families, as well as tell the stories of the enslaved who lived, worked and died on the plantation.4
Parks next recruited to the Board a lawyer in his neighborhood, James Baker, who subsequently became Chief Judge on the U.S. Military Court of Appeals. Judge Baker provided invaluable legal guidance to SHAH and negotiated a Philanthropic Partnership Agreement (PPA) with NPS in 2011, one which became the national model for subsequent PPA's between the NPS and "Friends Groups" throughout the United States.
Our PPA with NPS empowers us to raise funds on behalf of NPS and engage in volunteer activities to incubate and support innovative projects and initiatives, enhancing the experience of visitors to Arlington House. Among the projects we have supported is the restoration of the office of Robert E. Lee where he wrote his fateful letter of resignation from the U.S. Army in April 1861; the acquisition of a rare stereogram depicting Selina Gray, one of Arlington House's enslaved whose intervention with General McDowell saved Arlington's treasures from being looted during the Civil War; the restoration of the murals in the slave quarters originally painted by George Washington Parke Custis; and our ongoing effort to enrich House exhibits with untold stories of the enslaved at Arlington House.
In 2014, philanthropist, David Rubenstein, donated $13.35 million for the restoration of Arlington House which was closed for renovation in 2018 and reopened in June 2021. However, our work at Arlington House Foundation is not finished. The reopening of Arlington House heralded a new commitment to enlarging the historical lens and ensuring, going forward, that all stories be told, and all voices be heard. Arlington House Foundation and our Board Chair, Merle Schneider, invite you to join us by making a contribution that will assist with the ongoing preservation of this unique national treasure.
1 After the Civil War, James Parks became a long-time and revered employee of Arlington National Cemetery. He is the only formerly enslaved person at Arlington House who is currently buried in a marked grave at Arlington National Cemetery.
2 Harlan Eugene Cross, “Letters Home: Three Years Under General Lee in the 6th Alabama” (2013: available on Amazon).
3 General Meigs was the great-great nephew of General Montgomery Meigs who in 1864 ordered the first burials on the grounds of what which was ultimately to become Arlington National Cemetery
4 Wayne Parks died suddenly in the spring of 2010 and Gene Cross (Board Chair 2009-2018) passed away in January 2020, but their work lives on at Arlington House Foundation.