Life at Arlington. Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial

Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial
Built: 1803, Greek revival.

Architect: George Hadfield (1763 – February 6, 1826[1]) who was born in Livorno, Italy of English parents, who were hotel-keepers there. His sister was Maria Cosway, a painter who is best noted for her alleged affair with Thomas Jefferson, when he was the Ambassador to France between 1785-1789.

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Four of the Hadfield children were killed by a mentally ill nursemaid, who was caught after being overheard talking about killing Maria. The nurse claimed that her young victims would be sent to Heaven after she killed them. She was sentenced to life in prison. Only Maria, her brothers Richard and George, and a younger sister Charlotte survived

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 Hadfield was appointed superintendent of the United States Capitol's construction on Oct. 15, 1795, but resigned in 1798 after an argument with William Thornton, the first Architect of the Capitol and first Superintendent of the United States Patent Office.

 Hadfield is also credited the design of the original north wing of the Capitol building, Treasury Department, 1800 Navy Department, 1800, Washington Jail, 1801, Marine Corps Commandant's House, 1801–1805, District of Columbia City Hall, 1820 and the  Van Ness Mausoleum.  He is buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. (Not far from William Thornton’s grave)


Arlington House, formerly named the Custis-Lee Mansion, was once the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It overlooks the Potomac River and the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

During the American Civil War, the grounds of the mansion were selected as the site of Arlington National Cemetery, in part to ensure that Lee would never again be able to return to his home.

The mansion was built on the orders of George Washington Parke Custis, the step-grandson and adopted son of George Washington and only grandson of Martha Custis Washington.
Arlington House was built at a high point on a 1,100 acre estate that Custis' father, John “Jacky” Parke Custis, had purchased in 1778.  (Jacky Custis died in 1781 at Yorktown after the British surrender.)

 George Washington Parke Custis decided to build his home on the property in 1802, following the death of Martha Washington and three years after the death of George Washington.

 Custis originally wanted to name the property "Mount Washington", but was persuaded by family members to name it "Arlington House" after the Custis family's homestead on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

Custis married Mary Lee Fitzhugh. Their only child to survive to adulthood was Mary Anna Randolph Custis. Robert E. Lee, whose mother was a cousin of Mrs. Custis, frequently visited Arlington and knew Mary Anna as they grew up. Two years after graduating from West Point, Lieutenant Lee married Mary Anna Custis at Arlington on June 30, 1831.

 For 30 years Arlington House was home to the Lees. They spent much of their married life traveling between U.S. Army duty stations and Arlington, where six of their seven children were born. They shared this home with Mary's parents. After their deaths, Mary's parents were buried not far from the house on land that is now part of Arlington National Cemetery.

 Upon George Washington Parke Custis' death in 1857, he left the Arlington estate to Mary Custis Lee for her lifetime and thence to the Lee's eldest son, George Washington Custis Lee. The estate needed much repair and reorganization, and Gen. Lee, as executor of Custis' will, took a leave of absence from the Army until 1860 to begin the necessary agricultural and financial improvements.

Lee joined the Confederate States Army with Virginia's forces and was promoted to general. Concerned for the safety of his wife, who was still residing at the mansion, he convinced her to vacate the property, at least temporarily. She managed to send many of the family's valuables off to safety, as she had advance notice of the impending Union occupation from her cousin, Orton W. Williams. (Later hung as a spy)  

Robert E. Lee never set foot on the property again, but shortly before her 1873 death, Mary Anna Custis Lee visited her Arlington once more.

 The Union Army occupied the Arlington estate soon after the Lees left their property, whereupon Arlington House became the headquarters of the Union's Army of Northeastern Virginia under Brigadier General Irvin McDowell.

Many of the George Washington heirlooms that George Washington Parke Custis had collected were eventually moved to the Patent Office for safekeeping. Some items, however, including a few of the Mount Vernon heirlooms, were looted and scattered by Union soldiers living in or visiting the house.

In 1864, the federal government of the United States confiscated the house and property because Mary Anna Custis Lee, had not paid her property tax in person.

 After his surrender on April 9, 1865,  Robert E. Lee chose not to contest the federal government's seizure of their home, apparently because Lee felt that it would be too divisive.
 In 1870, after his father's death, the Lee's eldest son, George Washington Custis Lee (who had earlier been a Major General in the Confederate Army) filed a lawsuit against the United States government in the Alexandria Circuit Court to regain his property. 

In 1882, the Supreme Court of the United States finally ruled on the case in a 5-4 decision (United States v. Lee, 106 U. S. 196 (1882)). The court found that the estate had been 'illegally confiscated' in 1864 and ordered it returned, along with 1,100 acres (4 km2) of surrounding property. In its decision, the court cited as precedential a similar case that it had decided in 1870 (Bennett v. Hunter, 76 US (9 Wall.) 326 (1870)) that had involved the nearby Abingdon estate.

 In 1883, Custis Lee sold the mansion and property to the U.S. government for $150,000 (roughly equal to $3.5 million) at a signing ceremony with Secretary of War, Robert Todd Lincoln. (Who is buried in Arlington with his wife)