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Title: Custis-Lee Mansion - The Robert E. Lee Memorial, Virginia
Author: Nelligan, Murray H.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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    [Illustration: U. S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR: March 3, 1849]

                     Stewart L. Udall, _Secretary_

                         NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
                      Conrad L. Wirth, _Director_


This publication is one of a series of handbooks describing the
historical and archeological areas in the National Park System
administered by the National Park Service of the United States
Department of the Interior. It is printed by the Government Printing
Office and may be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents,
Washington 25, D. C. Price 25 cents.

                           CUSTIS-LEE MANSION
                      _The Robert E. Lee Memorial_

                        _by Murray H. Nelligan_

    [Illustration: Lee on Traveller]

                WASHINGTON, D.C., 1950 (_REVISED 1962_)

_The National Park System, of which Custis-Lee Mansion is a unit, is
dedicated to conserving the scenic, scientific, and historic heritage of
the United States for the benefit and enjoyment of its people._



  History of Arlington to 1861                                          1
  Arlington from 1861 to 1865                                          24
  Arlington from 1865 to the Present                                   26
  Guide to the House and Grounds                                       28
  Visitor Service and Facilities                                       46
  Administration                                                       47
  Suggested Readings                                                   48

    [Illustration: _General Robert E. Lee in 1865._ From the original
    photograph by Mathew Brady in the National Archives.]

    [Illustration: ]

Ever since it was built more than a century ago, the Custis-Lee Mansion
has dominated the scene across the river from the National Capital. An
outstanding example of a Greek Revival building of the early nineteenth
century, its dignity and strength, simplicity and steady grace, now make
it a most appropriate national memorial to one of America’s greatest
men, Robert E. Lee.

Built by his father-in-law, George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted
son of General Washington, the mansion was for many years a principal
repository of many objects associated with George Washington. As such,
it greatly influenced Robert E. Lee when the building was his home. Like
him, it experienced the vicissitudes of war and came to be associated
with his fame. Now it is maintained by the Nation in his honor, and in
the years to come will serve as a constant reminder of his nobility and

Many years have passed since General Lee lived in the home at Arlington.
But so real are the memories evoked by its historic atmosphere, it seems
little more than yesterday that he left it for the last time. A visit to
the Custis-Lee Mansion gives a deeper, more personal understanding of
the life and worth of the man to whose memory it is now dedicated.

                     _History of Arlington to 1861_

Custis was born April 30, 1781. His mother was Eleanor (Calvert) Custis,
a granddaughter of the sixth Lord Baltimore; his father, John Parke
Custis, the only son of Martha Washington by her first marriage. John
Parke Custis grew to manhood at Mount Vernon, married Eleanor Calvert in
1774, and died of camp fever in 1781 while serving as aide to General
Washington at Yorktown. His death left four children fatherless, so the
two youngest, George Washington Parke Custis and his sister Eleanor,
were adopted by the Washingtons and taken to Mount Vernon to be raised
as their own.

HIS EARLY LIFE AT MOUNT VERNON. Only 6 months old when he was taken to
live at Mount Vernon, it was a remarkable experience for a boy as
sensitive and gifted as young Custis to grow up on terms of intimacy
with General Washington, whose affection the fatherless lad reciprocated
with the deepest love and respect. As far as public duties would allow,
the General supervised the training and education of the boy, who
acquired from him the interests and ideals which established the pattern
of his life. “It is really an enjoyment to be here to witness the
tranquil happiness that reigns throughout the house,” wrote a guest at
Mount Vernon in 1799, “except when now and then a little bustle is
occasioned by the young Squire Custis when he returns from hunting,
bringing in a ‘valiant deer’, as he terms it, that Grandpa and the
Colonel will devour: nice venison I assure you.”

the General died in 1799. Mrs. Washington did not long survive her
husband, and when she died, early in 1802, Custis moved to “Mount
Washington,” as he first called the Arlington estate. This was a tract
of nearly 1,100 acres that Custis’ father had bought in 1778 with the
intention of establishing a family seat convenient to Mount Vernon, but
in 1802 the only tangible remains of his brief ownership were the
flourishing willows he had planted along the Potomac.

“ARLINGTON HOUSE” BEGUN. When Custis moved into a cottage built by the
former owners of the property, Arlington consisted mostly of woodland
and virgin oak forests, with a few cleared fields near the river. His
first concern was to get the fields under cultivation, using for the
purpose the mules and farm equipment he had purchased at the sales held
that year at Mount Vernon to settle the legacies of the several
Washington heirs. Equally urgent was the need to build a house worthy of
the furnishings and mementoes which he had inherited or bought at the
Mount Vernon sales, some of which were deteriorating badly in their
temporary quarters. To this end, he seems to have obtained building
plans from George Hadfield, a gifted young architect, who had come from
England in 1795 to take charge of the construction of the Capitol.

Influenced by the contemporary vogue for classical architecture, Custis
wanted his house to be in the new style, and the architect’s finished
design was a simplified Greek Doric portico balanced by extended wings,
the whole of such sturdiness as to show to advantage when viewed from
across the river. Since ornamentation would be lost at such a distance,
the architect largely dispensed with it, relying on good proportions to
give beauty to his creation. Rooms would be large and have high ceilings
and tall windows, and their severely plain walls would be perfect for
displaying the many portraits Custis possessed. Having the rooms open
into each other would give extensive vistas, framed by pleasing
semicircular arches.

    [Illustration: _Early view of Mount Vernon._]

    [Illustration: _George Washington Parke Custis._ From a miniature
    made at Mount Vernon in 1799.]

Though clay for bricks and choice timber were at hand on his estate,
Custis lacked the money necessary to build his house all at once.
Therefore he followed the common practice of building the wings first,
and the main section later. The north wing was built about 1803, and was
evidently intended to be one great banquet room. By 1804, the south wing
was completed, containing an office and a large room for entertaining.
In that year Custis married Mary Lee Fitzhugh. To provide living
quarters for himself and his bride he had the north wing partitioned
into three small rooms. With a kitchen and laundry in the basement, the
young couple had the essentials of living at “Arlington House,” as
Custis named his new home, after the old family seat on the Eastern
Shore. At this point, work seems to have been stopped. A visitor
reported in 1811, “I was struck, on entering the grounds of Mr. Custis,
at Arlington, ... with several of the most picturesque views. This seat
is on a superb mount, and his buildings are begun in a stile of superior
taste and elegance.”

his house, Custis inaugurated an annual fair designed to improve
agricultural practices in general, and particularly the breeding of
fine-wooled sheep. Beginning in 1803, Custis invited the local gentry
each spring to exhibit their best sheep and homespun cloth at Arlington
Spring, near the edge of the river. After prizes had been awarded, the
fair would close with patriotic speeches and a great dinner under the
tent which had been used by Washington during the Revolution.


By breeding the native stock on his farms with the imported stock he had
acquired from Mount Vernon, Custis himself developed a hardy race of
fine-wooled sheep, known as the “Arlington Improved.” Because the wool
of this breed could be woven into finer cloth than hitherto possible,
the Arlington sheep were widely diffused throughout the country. Custis
also sought to correct the primitive agricultural methods which had
already caused much land in his State to be abandoned because of soil
erosion. He advocated the establishment of a National Board of
Agriculture with functions like those of the Department of Agriculture
today, and he offered one of his outlying properties for use as an
experimental breeding station. So popular was the Arlington
Sheepshearing, as it was commonly called, that the idea was quickly
adopted elsewhere. Though economic conditions forced Custis to
discontinue the event after 1812, it was one of the primary sources of
the great program of agricultural improvement in effect today.

BIRTH OF MARY ANNA RANDOLPH CUSTIS. Mary Anna Randolph Custis, born in
1808, was the only one of the four Custis children to survive the first
year of infancy. Upon her the parents centered their affections and
hopes. The mother’s natural piety and devotion to her family were
deepened by the loss of her other children, while the father’s warm and
generous nature was such that in later years she could not recall ever
having received an unkind word from him.

CUSTIS AND THE WAR OF 1812. During the War of 1812, the British blockade
of the Chesapeake deprived Custis of much of the income from his other
estates, so it is doubtful if any building was done at Arlington at this
time. Convinced that Napoleon threatened the liberties of mankind more
than England, Custis strongly opposed the war. For this reason he was
chosen to deliver the funeral oration for General Lingan, a veteran of
the Revolution who was murdered by the same Baltimore mob which almost
killed Robert E. Lee’s father, “Light-Horse Harry” Lee. Nevertheless,
Custis followed the example set by George Washington during the American
Revolution by forbidding the managers of his plantations to furnish
supplies to the British; and when British troops approached the National
Capital in 1814, Custis fought in the ranks at the battle of

    [Illustration: _Arlington Spring, scene of the famous

“ARLINGTON HOUSE” COMPLETED. After the war, Custis resumed work on his
house, and the large center section and great portico were to have been
finished in 1817. “A house that any one might see with half an eye,” as
Robert E. Lee later described it, could not fail to attract attention,
and “Custis’ Folly” is first mentioned by a traveler in 1818. Although
the interior was never completed as planned and the rear was left
unstuccoed, “Arlington House” was soon considered one of the handsomest
residences about Washington. One early writer describes it as “a
noble-looking place, having a portico of stately white columns, which,
as the mansion stands high, with a back ground of dark woods, forms a
beautiful object in the landscape.”

House” now became the successor of Mount Vernon as the “Washington
Treasury,” as Custis termed it. His collection of Washington relics was
the largest in existence, and it filled the halls and rooms of the
mansion. The owner of these relics welcomed all who wished to view them,
and he never tired of entertaining his guests with tales of his early
years at Mount Vernon. Many distinguished men visited Arlington at one
time or other—Sam Houston, Daniel Webster, and Andrew Jackson, to name a
few. One of the most notable was General Lafayette, who twice was a
guest there when he toured the United States in 1824 and 1825. Custis
spent much time with the venerable marquis, and used the wealth of
reminiscenses he gained from the old soldier to write the delightful
_Conversations With Lafayette_, which was published in a local newspaper
in 1825. Encouraged by their favorable reception, he then began his own
_Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington_, which proved equally
popular and were widely reprinted in the newspapers of the period.

Even more successful were the dramas Custis wrote at this time, based on
heroic episodes in the Nation’s past or on inspiring contemporary
achievements. _The Indian Prophecy_ used an incident in Washington’s
early life as its theme and established a vogue for Indian plays which
lasted over 50 years; while the _Rail Road_ was the first one written on
that subject in America. Others dramatized such events as the battle of
Baltimore and the launching of a new warship. For 10 years his dramatic
pieces were staged from Boston to Charleston and did much to develop a
distinctive American drama.

    [Illustration: _An early view of “Arlington House.”_ From an
    engraving made about 1845.]

A man of culture, Custis used all of his abilities to perpetuate the
memory of Washington. He erected the first monument on the President’s
birthplace in 1816, wrote poems to celebrate his greatness, and painted
colorful battle pictures in which the great General was the central
figure. An accomplished orator, he was tireless in advocating the
principles of freedom for which Washington had fought, and planned to do
with his slaves as his foster father had done—free them after they had
been prepared to shift for themselves. Although he never held an
elective office, his influence was considerable and for the good.

    [Illustration: _The tents used by General Washington during the
    American Revolution were cherished relics at Arlington._ From B. J.
    Lossing, “Arlington House,” _Harper’s Monthly Magazine_, VII (Sept.
    1853), 444.]

HOME LIFE AT ARLINGTON. An equal source of inspiration at “Arlington
House” was the religious atmosphere of its home life. Mrs. Custis was a
devout Episcopalian, noted for her simplicity and piety. It was she who
influenced Robert E. Lee’s Sunday school teacher, Bishop William Meade,
to enter the ministry. Diligent where her husband was inclined to be
easy-going, Mrs. Custis was one with him in making Arlington free from

Kept unspoiled by her parents’ example, Mary Custis was given the
education deemed necessary for a young lady of her position, and as soon
as she was old enough herself taught the children of nearby families and
family servants. Though an only child, she never lacked companionship,
for usually the house overflowed with relatives and their children. The
Custises, too, often went visiting, especially to “Ravensworth,”
formerly the home of Mrs. Custis’ father and now owned by her only
brother. Here Mary must have played as a child with Robert E. Lee, for
he and his mother were also related to the Fitzhughs and often visited
at their estate. The Lees were familiar with Arlington as well, for
Robert was a favorite with the Custises from boyhood. He and Mary Custis
are said to have planted some of the trees in the vicinity of the house
when they were young.

    [Illustration: _Title page of the 1830 edition of Curtis’ most
    popular play._]

                       THE SETTLERS OF VIRGINIA,

                           A NATIONAL DRAMA,
                             IN THREE ACTS.

  Performed at the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, twelve nights,
                          with great success.

                               WRITTEN BY
                     GEORGE WASHINGTON CUSTIS, ESQ.
   Of Arlington House. Author of the Rail Road, Pawnee Chief, &c. &c.

                         PHILADELPHIA EDITION.
                            © ALEXANDER, PR.

MARRIAGE OF MARY CUSTIS AND ROBERT E. LEE. Childhood friendship turned
to love by the time Lee graduated from West Point and was assigned to
duty in the Corps of Engineers. Whenever possible he was at Arlington
courting Mary Custis, and in the summer of 1830 they became engaged.

The evening of the wedding, June 30, 1831, was one of steady rain, but
nothing could affect the warmth and happiness inside the friendly
portals of Arlington. The ceremony was formal and elaborate as befitted
the union of two of the most prominent families of Virginia. The happy
couple, surrounded by pretty bridesmaids and uniformed groomsmen, made a
picturesque scene.

    [Illustration: _George Washington Parke Custis._ Engraved from the
    portrait by Gilbert Stuart made about 1825.]

THE LEES AT FORT MONROE, 1831 TO 1834. Wedding trips not being customary
at that time, the young married couple stayed at Arlington until it was
time for them to go to Fort Monroe where Lee was stationed. At Christmas
they returned home, and, because of the bad weather, Mrs. Lee remained
there till spring. Furniture and choice provisions from the Custis farms
helped to make the Lee’s quarters at the fort more homelike, while Mrs.
Custis’ frequent letters lessened her daughter’s homesickness, as did
the whimsical, chatty ones her father wrote regularly to his “Dr Son &
Daughter.” In September of 1832, their first child was born there, a son
named George Washington Custis Lee, after his grandfather. Christmas
that year at Arlington was especially happy because of the new baby
(known familiarly as “Custis” Lee), and because Lee was unexpectedly
able to be there. The following year passed much the same way.

    [Illustration: _Lieutenant and Mrs. Robert E. Lee in 1838._ From the
    portraits by William E. West. U. S. Army Signal Corps photographs.]

LEE ON DUTY AT WASHINGTON, 1834 TO 1837. In the autumn of 1834, Lee was
transferred to Washington and with his family made his home at
Arlington. Sometimes his work kept him away overnight, but usually each
morning and afternoon he was to be seen riding between his office and
home. Lee disliked the office work which kept him in the city until the
middle of 1837, but life at Arlington was most pleasant. Mrs. Lee’s
parents idolized their little grandson, and for them Lee felt a growing
respect and affection. Custis was the nearest link to the first
President, and associating with him and living in the presence of so
many of the General’s personal belongings made Washington very close and
real to the young engineer, an example and influence that steadily
entered his soul.

Lee fitted easily into the quiet way of life at Arlington. Mrs. Lee and
her mother cared little for formal social affairs, preferring to be out
of doors gardening or riding about the estate when not entertaining
visitors. Mr. Custis was usually busy with his farm, and since he liked
to hunt, he might often be seen walking or riding about the estate with
his gun and dogs; evenings he spent with his family by the hearth, or
retired to his study to work on his literary efforts. Each morning and
evening the family and servants gathered for prayers, and grace was said
before each meal. On Sundays the family usually drove into Alexandria to
church, or held services at home if the roads were bad. Mrs. Lee, like
her father, was an amateur artist, an interest shared by her husband who
also occasionally assisted Mr. Custis in his business affairs or put his
engineering experience to use in making improvements.

Troubles there were, of course. Lee was away on a mission to Ohio and
Michigan when his second child, a daughter whom they named Mary, was
born in the summer of 1835. When he returned, he found his wife so
seriously ill that she was unable to walk for months. This was the first
of a series of illnesses which were to make her an invalid much of her

Though this experience saddened Lee at the time, it made his home the
more dear to him. It was about this time that he wrote to a friend: “The
Country looks very sweet now, and the hill at Arlington covered with
verdure, and perfumed by the blossoms of the trees, the flowers of the
Garden. Honey-Suckles, yellow Jasmine, &c. is more to my taste than at
any other season of the year. But the brightest flower there blooming is
my daughter.... [I] hurry home to her every day.”

    [Illustration: _View from Arlington about 1837._ From the original
    lithograph in the New York Public Library.]

THE LEES AT ST. LOUIS, 1838 TO 1839. In 1837 another son was born, and
although Lee had received orders to report to St. Louis he was able to
remain at Arlington until he was assured the mother and baby were doing
well. Christmas he was home again, remaining there till spring so Mrs.
Lee and the two boys could return with him to St. Louis. Little Mary
stayed behind with her grandparents, which may have compensated them
somewhat for the absence of her parents the following Christmas.

Now a captain, Lee brought his family home in the spring of 1839 for
Mrs. Lee to await the arrival of their fourth child, though he could not
remain for the event. Early in July, he heard a new daughter had joined
the family circle, but not until Christmas did he get to see her.

An incident which probably occurred that winter illustrates the
seriousness with which Lee viewed his family responsibilities. He and
8-year-old Custis had gone for a walk one snowy day, the boy following
behind while his father broke the way. Preoccupied with ploughing
through the deep snow, the father failed to look behind for some time,
and when he did, saw that his little son was setting his feet carefully
in the tracks his father had made, while imitating his every movement.
“When I saw this,” Lee related afterwards, “I said to myself, ‘It
behooves me to walk very straight, when the little fellow is already
following in my tracks’.”

LEE AT FORT HAMILTON, N. Y., 1841 TO 1846. Lee did not return to St.
Louis until the summer of 1840, and then only to finish up his work and
return home. There his fifth child, a girl, was born the following
February. Soon after, Lee was sent to Fort Hamilton, N. Y., where he
remained on duty until 1846. During these years it was customary for his
family to be with him at New York during the summer and fall months and
at Arlington the rest of the year, where Lee usually passed the winter.
Two more children, a boy and a girl, were born in these years. Telling a
friend about the arrival of the boy, Lee wrote: “About a month ago a
young Robert E. Lee made his appearance at Arlington, much to the
surprise and admiration of his brothers and sisters. He has a fine long
nose like his father, but no whiskers.”

WAR WITH MEXICO, 1846 TO 1848. Because war with Mexico seemed imminent
when Lee went back to Fort Hamilton in the spring of 1846, Mrs. Lee and
the children remained at Arlington. Hostilities began in May, and in
August Lee was ordered to report for service in Mexico. Returning home,
he spent a few days at Arlington arranging his affairs, then said
goodbye to his family. Twenty-two months passed before he saw it again,
months of anxiety for those waiting at home, relieved only by his long
and frequent letters, such as the one he wrote to his two eldest sons
the day before Christmas, 1846: “I hope good Santa Claus will fill my
Rob’s stocking to-night: that Mildred’s, Agnes’s, and Anna’s may break
down with good things. I do not know what he may have for you and Mary,
but if he only leaves for you one half of what I wish, you will want for

The war ended early in 1848, and seeing many of the returning volunteers
enjoy Mr. Custis’ hospitality at Arlington Spring must have made the
Lees more impatient for the return of their own hero. When Lee finally
arrived in Washington he missed the carriage sent for him, and so
procured a horse to ride home. None of those anxiously watching for a
glimpse of the carriage noticed the lone horseman ascending the hill,
and not till “Spec,” Lee’s dog, rushed out joyfully barking did they
realize their soldier was home. Great was the excitement as he greeted
them in the hall, and his mistaking a friend’s little boy for his own
added to the hilarity. “Here I am again, my dear Smith,” Lee wrote to
his brother the next day, “perfectly surrounded by Mary and her precious
children, who seem to devote themselves to staring at the furrows in my
face and the white hairs in my head.... I find them too much grown, and
all well, and I have much cause for thankfulness and gratitude to that
good God who has once more united us.”

    [Illustration: _Robert E. Lee in civilian dress, about 1850._]

THE LEES AT ARLINGTON, 1848 TO 1849. The summer of 1848 was a happy one
at Arlington, for Lee was on duty in Washington and was promoted to
brevet colonel, so that hereafter he would be titled “Colonel Lee.”
Toward the end of the year he was assigned to supervise the construction
of a new fort in Baltimore, but soon after officially taking over the
project, he returned to Arlington. This was the winter that a guest at
Arlington observed Lee’s face in quiet repose as he read to his family
assembled about the table one night, and thought to herself: “You
certainly look more like a great man than any one I have ever seen.”

Mrs. Lee and her mother made an equally favorable impression on a lady
who visited Arlington the next spring. “We had tea in the Washington
teacups, and Mrs. Lee took me into the tangled neglected gardens, full
of rose-buds, and allowed me to pick my fill of the sweet dainty Bon
Silene variety, which she told me blossomed all winter. What a view that
was!... Mrs. Lee had the face of a genius: a wealth of dark hair,
carelessly put up, gave her fine head the air of one of Romney’s
portraits. She was most lovely and sympathetic. Her mother, Mrs. Custis,
was a woman full of character.”

THE LEES AT BALTIMORE, 1849 TO 1852. Lee was home for a short time
during the summer of 1849 to recuperate from a touch of fever, and in
the autumn his family joined him at Baltimore. There they lived through
1851, coming home for Christmas and occasional visits. Seldom was the
family together, however, for their eldest son, Custis, entered West
Point in 1850, and usually some of the children were at Arlington with
their grandparents.

Mrs. Custis kept the absent ones informed as to what was going on at
Arlington. “Your Grandfather is seized with a spirit of improvement
lately,” she wrote to the lad at West Point in 1851. “He is making new
steps to the Portico (the old ones having so decayed as to be unsafe)
and intends paving it with octagon brick tiles which are now being
burned in the vast brick kilns in Washington.” Later, she reported that
the steps were finished and the portico floor about to be laid.

Though 70 and often unwell, Mr. Custis’ activity seldom flagged. A
polished and effective speaker, with a gift for being able to enter into
the spirit of an occasion, he was well-liked for his personal charm and
unassuming manner. He was fond of children, and a great favorite with
the young Lees. Conscious of his advancing years, Custis increased the
output of his _Recollections of Washington_, that his personal knowledge
of the General might not be lost. In this he was encouraged by the Lees,
who also approved his renewed interest in scientific agriculture. While
strongly advocating the establishment of a department of agriculture in
the National Government, Custis applied the latest methods of
fertilizing and cultivation to his own farms so that the land inherited
by his grandchildren would be fertile, rather than worn-out like that of
so much of his native State.

    [Illustration: _A view of “Arlington House” made in 1853 by the
    historian-artist Benson J. Lossing._ From the original water color
    in the Lee Mansion.]

Christmas in 1851 was typical of the many happy ones celebrated at
Arlington, and, telling his son at West Point about it, Lee wrote: “[We]
found your grandfather at the Washington depot, Daniel and the old
carriage and horses, and young Daniel on the colt Mildred. Your mother,
grandfather, Mary Eliza, the little people, and the baggage, I thought
load enough for the carriage, so Rooney and I took our feet in our hands
and walked over.... The snow impeded the carriage as well as us, and we
reached here shortly after it. The children were delighted at getting
back, and passed the evening in devising pleasure for the morrow. They
were in upon us before day on Christmas morning, to overhaul their
stockings.... I need not describe to you our amusements, you have
witnessed them so often; nor the turkey, cold ham, plum-pudding, mince
pies, etc., at dinner.” “Rooney” was the Lee’s second boy, William Henry

    [Illustration: _George Washington Parke Custis in his old age._ From
    the photograph by Mathew Brady in the collection of Frederick H.
    Meserve, New York.]

command of West Point in September 1852, where he was shortly joined by
his family. Mrs. Custis had been well when they left, so the telegram
which came in April telling of her critical illness was entirely
unexpected. Mrs. Lee started for home at once, but on arrival found her
beloved mother dead and her father prostrated by his loss. She at once
took charge of the household and herself conducted the morning worship
which had been forgotten in the sorrow and confusion. After breakfast
she selected a spot for her mother’s grave among the trees a short
distance from the house. For years, Lee had called Mrs. Custis “Mother,”
and his grief at her death was almost as great as Mrs. Lee’s. By now the
religious convictions instilled in him by his mother had been matured by
his own experiences and the example of those at Arlington, and soon
after his return from West Point at the end of the term, he and two of
his daughters were confirmed at Christ Church, Alexandria.

Hoping to divert Mr. Custis, the Lees took him back with them to West
Point. But not even a trip to Niagara Falls with his son-in-law could
keep him from worrying about his beloved Arlington, and he soon returned
home. To ease his loneliness, the Lees came home on brief visits in the
spring and summer of 1854.

LEE IN TEXAS, 1855 TO 1857. Early in 1855, Lee was assigned to a cavalry
regiment being organized for service on the frontier. Before leaving for
his new station he made arrangements to have the large unfinished room
off the main hall, at Arlington, made into a drawing room and to have a
hot-air furnace installed to heat the house. The “Big Room,” as it was
called, when finished was very handsome with its marble mantelpieces and
crystal chandelier, and Mrs. Lee and the girls were proud of its
appearance when they showed it to Lee on his return for the holidays.

Much of his leave was given over to straightening out the finances of
Mr. Custis’ other farms, for the old gentleman was now 75 and, though
active in improving his lands and crops, needed the assistance of his
son-in-law in managing his business affairs. Lee returned to Texas in
February 1856, and was unable to be home for Christmas that year. His
loneliness is apparent in the letter he wrote to Mrs. Lee: “The time is
approaching when I trust many of you will be assembled around the family
hearth at dear Arlington, to celebrate another Christmas. Though absent,
my heart will be in the midst of you, & I shall enjoy in imagination &
memory, all that is going on. May nothing occur to mar or cloud the
family fireside, & may each be able to look back with pride & pleasure
at their deeds of the past year, & with confidence & hope to that in
prospect. I can do nothing but hope & pray for you all.”

DEATH OF MR. CUSTIS. Life at Arlington and for the father far away in
Texas flowed on quietly during 1857. Although badly crippled by
rheumatism, Mrs. Lee was able to manage the household and spend much
time in her garden, while her father occupied himself as usual. But in
the fall a telegram came to Lee, telling him of Mr. Custis’ death on
October 10th. Letters from the family told him more of the sad event:
how Mr. Custis had been ill of pneumonia only 4 days, how he had
steadily failed, and how on the last day, after embracing his weeping
daughter and grandchildren and asking to be remembered to his
son-in-law, had passed away while his rector said the prayers for the
dying. His last wish had been to be buried by the side of his wife, and
to that spot his coffin had been borne by the family servants, followed
by the Lees and a host of relatives and friends.

    [Illustration: _Mrs. Robert E. Lee._ This engraving was probably
    made from a photograph taken sometime after 1865.]

LEE BECOMES MASTER OF ARLINGTON. It was a saddened household to which
Lee returned as soon as he could, made more so because Mrs. Lee’s
illness had progressed to where she was almost incapable of getting
about the house. He found it necessary to take an extended leave in
order to take on the management of Mr. Custis’ properties and, as his
executor, to carry out the terms of his will. This provided that after
outstanding debts had been paid and legacies given each of the Lee
girls, the farms were to go to the boys, although Mrs. Lee would have
possession of Arlington until her death, after which it would pass to
Custis Lee. All the slaves were to be freed within 5 years.

A large debt had to be paid off before anything else could be done, and
Lee applied himself to making the farms as productive as possible by
putting more land under cultivation and planting larger crops. For a
time, it seemed that it would be impossible for him ever to discharge
his obligations satisfactorily, but he could still hide his
discouragement from his children, as when in the autumn of 1858 he came
upon one of his daughters saying a tearful goodbye to a friend, and said
cheerfully to the weeping girls: “No tears at Arlington, no tears.”
Fortunately, by the summer of 1859 he could see some improvement in the
situation, although much remained to be done.

a young lieutenant, J. E. B. Stuart, who had been a guest at Arlington
several times, came with orders for Lee to report at once to the
Secretary of War. There he learned of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry
and was directed to take command of the forces being sent to quell the
uprising. This was soon accomplished, and in a short while Lee was home

Affairs at Arlington were so encouraging that autumn, that Lee expected
soon to rejoin his regiment in Texas. Therefore, he arranged to have his
son, Custis, who was now in the Corps of Engineers, transferred to
Washington where he could supervise the estate. Unlike many army
officers, Lee had never been away long from his native State, and his
months of hard work at Arlington had given him a sympathetic
understanding of the problems faced by his kinsmen and fellow-planters
and reaffirmed his belief that his first loyalty was to Virginia.

These were his views when he went to Texas in February 1860, and they
remained unchanged as the discord between the North and South grew more
intense. Uneasily, he observed the recklessness of the extremists on
both sides, hoping always that the Union he loved would be preserved.
Texas seceded in February 1861, and Lee, who had been ordered to report
to Washington, arrived home at Arlington a month later. “I met Col.
Robert E. Lee at Gen. Scott’s office,” one of his army friends wrote in
his diary, March 5th. “He feels badly at the prospect.” Probably all
that Lee could tell his old friend was that if Virginia seceded he must
follow her, and that all he could do was to await developments.

events moved rapidly. Fort Sumter was bombarded in April, and in a few
days Lee heard that his own beloved Virginia had seceded. Great as was
his pride in the Union, he did not believe that it should be preserved
by force; moreover, he felt his first allegiance was to his State.
Though his career be sacrificed and the lives and property of his
children endangered, he believed he must do his duty as he saw it.

Arlington blazed with lights Friday night, April 19,1861, and was filled
with relations and friends anxiously discussing the recent events.
Finding it impossible to think about his problem amid the excitement,
Colonel Lee went outside and paced back and forth under the trees while
he pondered his future course. Still undecided, he returned to the house
and went up to his bedroom. Downstairs, Mrs. Lee and the others waited
anxiously. Overhead, they could hear Lee’s footsteps as he paced the
floor, stopping only when he knelt to pray. It was after midnight when
he finally arrived at a decision and sat down to write his resignation
from the United States Army. That done, he came down with it in his hand
to where his wife was waiting. “Well, Mary,” he said quietly, “the
question is settled. Here is my letter of resignation, and a letter I
have written to General Scott.”

    [Illustration: _“Arlington House” as it appeared a few years before
    the Civil War._ From a sketch by Benson J. Lossing.]

THE LEES LEAVE ARLINGTON. Monday morning, Lee said goodbye to his family
and left for Richmond. Before him were the long, hard years of a bitter
war from which he would gain unfading glory. But never again would he be
sheltered by the friendly roof of his old home at Arlington, and only
once would he have a glimpse of it, and then from a passing train,
several years after the war.

    [Illustration: _A corner of the drawing room, 1956._]

    [Illustration: _General Robert E. Lee in 1862._ U. S. Army Signal
    Corps photograph.]

In view of the strategic location of Arlington, Lee urged his wife to go
to a place of safety, but no preparations had been made to leave when
word reached Mrs. Lee, early in May, that the Federal forces were soon
to move into Virginia. Then all was excitement as the family portraits
were taken from their frames and, with the plate and the most valuable
Washington relics, sent off for safekeeping. Curtains and carpets were
packed away in the attic, books and engravings put in closets, and the
china stored in boxes in the cellar. Most of the furniture had to be
left behind, but this Mrs. Lee trusted she could recover later. When
everything was in order, it was time to say farewell to the weeping
servants, and to leave her home for what was to be the last time.

              [Illustration: THE ARLINGTON ESTATE IN 1860
                         March 1950 MEM LM 7000
                          High-resolution Map]

    1. “Arlington House”
    2. Ice House
    3. Stable
    4. Outbuilding
    5. Grave of Mary Randolph
    6. Custis Graves
    7. Gravel Pit
    8. Slave Cabins
    9. Chapel
    10. Barn
    11. Overseer’s House
    12. Apple Orchard
    13. Arlington Spring
    14. Slave Cemetery
    15. Road to Long Bridge

                     _Arlington from 1861 to 1865_

few days when the Federal Army crossed the river and occupied the
heights opposite the National Capital. Overnight, what had been a quiet
country estate was transformed into a vast military encampment. New
roads were cut through the woods and much of it felled to open fields of
fire for the earthen forts being built a short distance west of the
house. Guards were posted to protect the house, and when the commanding
general learned that many articles nevertheless were being stolen, he
sent the Washington relics, which had been stored in the cellar, to the
Patent Office for safekeeping, and then established his headquarters
inside the mansion. Inevitably, the estate suffered greatly, though
strong efforts were made to prevent wanton destruction, particularly of
the fine old trees.

LEE BECOMES THE HERO OF THE SOUTH. While Arlington was blighted by grim
war, its former master was engaged in mobilizing the defenses of his
native State. Before long he was military adviser to the President of
the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, and successively commander of the Army
of Northern Virginia and general in chief of all the Confederate armies.
The qualities developed by his years in the army and his home life were
the same that now made him the military champion of the South and its
greatest hero. His self-discipline rarely deserted him, and his deep
religious beliefs gave him a humility and simplicity sufficient to
withstand the greatest discouragements. Even though the odds were
against him, his splendid presence on the field of battle and his
kindliness and courtesy to all regardless of rank won him the devotion
of his officers and men, while his brilliant military leadership gave
hope and fighting spirit to the entire South. Always he was the knightly
Christian gentleman, humane and magnanimous whether in victory or

    [Illustration: _East front of “Arlington House” in 1864._ From the
    photograph by Brady in the National Archives.]

    [Illustration: _Robert E. Lee in the full dress of a Confederate
    General._ From the original photograph made in 1863 by Minnis and
    Cowell, Richmond. U. S. Army Signal Corps photograph.]

army moved away from Arlington for service in the field, but the mansion
continued to be used as a headquarters. In 1864, the Government levied a
tax on the Arlington estate. Because Mrs. Lee was unable to appear
personally to pay the tax as stipulated, payment through her agent was
refused and the property sold at public auction. In June of that year
the first burials were made in 200 acres set aside as a national
cemetery. Work was begun at once to restore the former natural beauty of
the grounds, and by the end of the war almost all the scars caused by
its military occupation had been erased. Only the long rows of white
headboards gleaming among the trees and the desolate house now used only
for the cemetery office bespoke the bitter strife that had wrought such
a profound change at Arlington.

                  _Arlington from 1865 to the Present_

leadership which Lee had given his people during the war did not cease
at Appomattox. As president of Washington College (afterwards Washington
and Lee University), he devoted himself to restoring the South
culturally, economically, and politically. Magnanimous in peace as in
war, he urged his countrymen to forswear hatred and make the best of
their situation. By his advice and example he did much to bring about
the true restoration of the Union, not by force, but by the immeasurably
stronger bonds of reconciliation and a common loyalty.

For a time General Lee hoped to regain possession of Arlington for his
wife, but he died in 1870 without having recovered it. Mrs. Lee died 3
years later, and her son Custis then took legal action to obtain his
inheritance. In 1882, the case was finally decided in his favor by the
Supreme Court of the United States, but since thousands of soldiers had
been buried at Arlington, Custis Lee accepted the offer of the
Government to buy the property for $150,000.

“Arlington House” had been famous for its associations with George
Washington; but after the Civil War it became even more widely known as
the former home of General Lee. Though its rooms were empty, thousands
from all over the country came to see it each year because of the
universal admiration for its former master. It was in response to this
sentiment that Representative Louis C. Cramton, of Michigan, sponsored
the legislation passed by Congress in 1925 which authorized the
restoration of the mansion as a national memorial.

RESTORATION OF THE MANSION. The project of restoring and refurnishing
the mansion was begun by the War Department in 1928. Structural changes
made since 1861 were removed and the house refurnished as nearly as
possible as when occupied by the Lee and Custis families. The original
furnishings having long since been scattered or lost, few could be
returned to their old setting, but copies were made of furniture and
portraits known to have been at Arlington and pieces appropriate to the
period procured. By 1933, when the mansion was transferred to the
National Park Service of the Department of the Interior, the major
portion of the work had been finished. However, the work of restoring
the mansion to its original condition is a continuing process, as
structural changes based on historical research are made and more of the
original furnishings are identified and acquired.

    [Illustration: _Robert E. Lee in 1869 when President of Washington
    College, Lexington, Va._ From the Brady photograph, U. S. Army
    Signal Corps.]

                    _Guide to the House and Grounds_

THE OLD ARLINGTON ESTATE. Arlington was but one of several estates
totaling more than 15,000 acres owned by George Washington Parke Custis,
father-in-law of General Lee. Since the former’s income was largely
derived from two large farms on the Pamunkey River in New Kent County,
Va., he kept Arlington mainly as a gentleman’s country estate after the
English fashion. The greater part of Arlington was taken up by “the
Park,” a virgin woodland of ancient oaks and beautiful groves of walnut,
chestnut, and elm trees, extending from the Georgetown and Alexandria
Road at the foot of the hill clear to the western edge of the estate.

On the level land lying between the road and Potomac River was “the
Farm,” consisting of an orchard and several large cultivated fields and
pastures. Here was grown most of the grain and vegetables required by
the Arlington household and the large number of slaves, the surplus
being sold in the Washington markets. In the southeast corner of the
farm was the Arlington landing, where the barge which hauled produce to
market was kept, as well as the schooner _Lady of the Lake_, used to
carry goods to and from the distant farms. Here also docked the
steamboats _Arlington Belle_ and the _G. W. P. Custis_, which annually
ferried thousands from the city to the famed Arlington Spring, for half
a century a favorite picnic spot for Georgetown and Washington
residents. For their convenience the hospitable owner erected pavilions
for dining and dancing, requiring only that no liquor be used. Custis
considered himself primarily a farmer, and spent most of each day riding
or walking about the estate supervising the work being done. After he
died in 1857 and the management of the estate was taken over by Col.
Robert E. Lee, the area under cultivation was considerably enlarged.

Arlington originally had been part of a tract of 6,000 acres granted in
1669 by Governor William Berkeley of Virginia to a ship’s captain, named
Robert Howsing, in payment for transporting settlers to the colony.
Howsing soon sold his grant to John Alexander, after whom Alexandria,
Va., is named, reportedly for six hogsheads of tobacco. The land
remained in the Alexander family until 1778, when John Parke Custis
bought 1,100 acres from Gerard Alexander with the intention of
establishing a family seat. He died, however, before he had done
anything with the property, whereupon it passed to his son, George
Washington Parke Custis, who developed it as described.

THE MANSION. For all its imposing appearance when seen at a distance,
the real size of the mansion is not apparent until seen close at hand.
The central part of the building is 2 stories high, 60 feet wide, and 40
feet deep. One-story wings, each 40 feet long and 25 feet wide, extend
to the north and south, making the length of the entire building 140
feet. In the rear are still lower wings for service and a conservatory.

    [Illustration: _“Arlington House” from a sketch made before 1861,
    though not published until 1875._]

Although the wings with their tall recessed windows and balustrade are
quite pleasing, the magnificent portico is the salient architectural
feature of the mansion, one of the earliest and best-known examples of
Greek Doric porticos in America. This extends 25 feet from the front of
the house and has 8 columns 23 feet high and somewhat over 5 feet thick
at the base. Early authorities differ as to whether the portico was
derived from the smaller, well-proportioned Greek temple at Athens known
as the Theseum, or the larger, more imposing temple of Neptune at
Paestum, Italy. There is no doubt, however, as to the effectiveness of
the architectural style chosen, for no other would have had the strength
and massiveness necessary to make the building impressive when viewed
from across the river. Yet for all its simplicity and solidity, the
proportions of the mansion are so refined as to make it an outstanding
example of Greek Classic Revival architecture of the early nineteenth

The building is of the most solid construction throughout. All the walls
and most of the foundations are of brick, as are the columns of the
portico. All of the brickwork exposed to the weather is protected by
hard stucco plaster scored with lines in imitation of cut stone. Joists,
studs, and rafters are of hewn timber and are neatly mortised together
or pinned with wooden pegs, scarcely any nails being used. Doors,
cornices, and other woodwork are of pine. The main roof is supported by
great barnlike trusses which span the entire width of the center section
and originally was covered with wooden shingles, now replaced by slate.
At one time the portico columns were painted to look like marble, but
later were made white for better contrast with the warm buff or ochre
color of the remainder of the house. Well constructed to begin with, the
deterioration inevitable in any old building was entirely corrected when
the War Department restored the building. Careful maintenance now
assures a long and useful future for the Custis-Lee Mansion.

THE CONSERVATORY. Because flowers were important in the life of the
Arlington household, it is most appropriate that present-day visitors
enter the mansion through the conservatory. Both Mrs. Lee and her
mother, Mrs. Custis, were devoted to their gardens and used flowers for
decorations throughout the house. Called the “conservatory,” or
“greenhouse,” and sometimes the “camellia house,” by those who lived
there, this was the room in which they grew their favorite flowers and
plants during the winter months or started young ones for transplanting
outdoors. The floor of the conservatory has been restored, but the
woodwork and most of the windows are original.

    [Illustration: _The conservatory._]

THE OFFICE AND STUDY. The management of a large estate like Arlington
required an office where business could be transacted and records kept,
and this long, narrow room was used as such by both Mr. Custis and
Colonel Lee. Here the former worked on his literary efforts and carried
on an extensive correspondence concerning agricultural matters and the
life of General Washington. In his old age Mr. Custis also used it as
his “painting room,” for in 1852 he wrote to a fellow artist: “I have an
excellent studio fitted up in the South wing of the House, with a first
rate light, ... a stove & everything comfortable.”


    [Illustration: _The office and study._]

The desk in the corner was used by Lee during the years 1848 to 1852,
while supervising the construction of Fort Carroll, near Baltimore, Md.
Also of interest is his traveling chess set and the plain pine stand
which Mrs. Lee gave to her personal maid, Selina Gray, whose descendants
returned it to the house.

THE DINING ROOM. “The House will be a very showy handsome building when
completed,” wrote a lady visiting Arlington in 1804. “The room we were
in was 24 feet square & 18 feet high,” she continued. No doubt she was
describing the present dining room, for here the Custises entertained
their numerous guests before the large central section of the house was
built. Later, Mr. Custis used it as a studio, and after his wife’s
death, in 1853, it became Mrs. Lee’s “morning room,” where she answered
her mail and managed the affairs of her household. Here Mrs. Lee was
engaged in copying a portrait of her infant grandson when, in May 1861,
she was informed that the Federal Army was soon to occupy Arlington and
that she must leave at once.

The dining room has been restored to its earliest use. Most of the
woodwork and windows are original, while the molding, plaster, and the
beautiful door to the study are entirely so. An interesting
architectural feature is the great semicircular arch at the north end of
the room, reminiscent of the villas Architect George Hadfield saw in
Italy during the years he studied there.

THE DRAWING ROOM. The drawing room remained unfinished for many years,
not even being plastered, probably because Mr. Custis lacked the
necessary funds. During these years it was known as the “big room” and
in it were stored old furniture and the finished canvasses of Mr.
Custis. On rainy days the Lee children often used it as a playroom. When
Colonel Lee went to Texas, in 1855, he left instructions for its
“renovation”—plastering the walls, installing a crystal chandelier, and
painting the walls and woodwork. He also ordered marble mantels for the
fireplaces. Mrs. Lee supervised the progress of the work in her
husband’s absence, and the result must have been most pleasing, for a
young lady who saw it in 1856 describes it as “a beautiful & noble
drawing room, very handsomely furnished and hung too with paintings.”

    [Illustration: _The dining room._]

The most valuable paintings were taken away by Mrs. Lee in 1861, but
copies have been made for the restoration of this room. The sofa is
original, as is the music cabinet near the piano. The woodwork and walls
are finished off as Colonel Lee had them done in 1855.

THE HALL. A long hall extending from the front to the back was a common
feature of Virginia houses of the period, because of the cooling draft
of air it provided during hot weather. For this reason it was usually
furnished with sofas and chairs and used as a summer parlor. The Lees
and Custises would sit and converse here on warm summer evenings, or
perhaps read the latest English novel aloud to each other. “The puss has
appropriated the sofa in the parlor to himself, while I occupy that in
the hall,” Mr. Custis observed humorously in a letter to his wife in

Characteristic of the Greek temples from which the mansion was adapted
are the tall narrow doors at each end of the hall. The graceful round
arches at the west end are typical of George Hadfield’s architectural
work. High on the walls at this end are the spirited hunting frescoes
painted by Mr. Custis himself. Elk and deer horns represent the
collection of antlers begun by him when a lad at Mount Vernon. Suspended
from the ceiling in the middle of the hall is a replica of the famous
Mount Vernon lantern, the original of which hung here for more than 50
years. On the walls are copies of portraits once at Arlington, including
one of George Washington painted by Mr. Custis.

    [Illustration: _The drawing room._]

THE FAMILY PARLOR. From an early date three arches have divided the
large room north of the hall into a family parlor and a small dining
room. Originally, there were doors and a fanlight in the center arch,
while those on the outside were filled in with lath and plaster,
probably to make the rooms easier to heat. The twin Carrara marble
mantels are original, and are said to have been ordered by Mr. Custis
from Italy.

The family parlor was the favorite gathering place of the Lees and
Custises, who entertained most of their guests in it even after the
drawing room was completed. Here the family passed the winter evenings
reading or listening to Mr. Custis’ interesting stories of his boyhood
at Mount Vernon. Each Christmas it was the family custom to kindle the
great yule log in the fireplace with the remains of that from the
previous year. The wedding of Mary Custis and Robert E. Lee took place
in this room.

    [Illustration: _The family parlor._]

THE FAMILY DINING ROOM. Small and informal, the family dining room was
used as such from the time the center section of the house was built
until the Lees departed in 1861. Arlington was noted for its
hospitality, and seldom was there a meal at which some guests were not
present. When he was at home, it was Colonel Lee’s custom to gather
rosebuds in the garden each morning and place one beside the plate of
each of his daughters, the youngest getting the smallest bud, and so on
up to the eldest.

Over the mantel hangs a portrait of Mr. Custis, copied from the original
in the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C. On the mantel is a
statuette, “The Three Graces,” said to have been imported from Italy by
Mr. Custis about 1855. Among the dishes in the cupboard are two custard
cups, a Wedgewood cream pitcher, and several other pieces which were
originally at Arlington.

THE UPPER HALL. The simple staircase which ascends to the upper hall is
typical of those in houses of classic revival style of architecture,
since their temple prototypes had no second floor and hence no stairs.
That the one in the mansion was carefully planned by the architect,
however, is shown by the ingenious way in which one window serves to
light the stair landing and the closet off it, as well as the hall

Like the one below, the upper hall was originally furnished with several
long sofas for use as a sitting room during warm weather. At such times
the lower part of the great window at the west end was opened wide in
order to increase the movement of air.

    [Illustration: _The family dining room as seen from the family

    [Illustration: _The family dining room._]

THE LEE BEDROOM. This pleasant room was occupied by Mrs. Lee before and
after her marriage. According to tradition, six of her seven children
were born in the small dressing room on its west side. Mrs. Lee’s toilet
and serving case, resembling a miniature lectern and bearing her
initials “M. C. L.,” sits on the bureau next to the door of the dressing
room. On the mantel is an engraving of Mrs. Lee made at Arlington in
1858. This is believed to be the room in which Colonel Lee arrived at
his decision to resign his commission in the United States Army.

THE BOYS’ BEDROOM. This bedroom was occupied by the three Lee
sons—Custis, Robert, and William Henry Fitzhugh, otherwise known as
“Rooney.” The floor, mantel, woodwork, and plaster cornice in this room
are original. The mahogany washstand was at Arlington prior to 1861.

    [Illustration: _The main staircase._]

    [Illustration: _The bedroom of Colonel and Mrs. Lee._]

Next to the boys’ room is a small chamber originally divided by a
partition into dressing rooms for the adjoining bedrooms. In 1857, Mrs.
Lee had the partition removed and a doorway made into the hall in order
to provide more space for guests. Since the room was too small for a
bed, a cot was set up whenever additional sleeping quarters were needed.
The washstand and the Duncan Phyfe side chair are original Arlington

ROOM OF MARY LEE AND “MARKIE.” Mary Lee, eldest of the Lee daughters,
occupied this room from her earliest days. Occasionally, she shared it
with one of her sisters, but more often with Martha Williams, known
affectionately as “Markie,” a cousin of both Colonel and Mrs. Lee.
Markie’s mother died in 1843, and her father was killed 3 years later
during the war with Mexico. Although Markie lived with her grandparents
in Georgetown, she was at Arlington so much of the time as to be almost
a member of the household, leading another guest to observe, in 1856,
that “Markie’s room commands a beautiful view of the river & of
Washington.” Markie and her father were both talented artists and
several of their paintings embellished the house.

    [Illustration: _Miss Mary Lee’s room._]

THE LEE GIRLS’ BEDROOM. This large, sunny bedroom was occupied by Agnes,
Annie, and Mildred Lee. Although it is not one of the original Arlington
furnishings, the miniature mahogany bureau on the table against the west
wall is noteworthy as having been owned by Anne Hill Carter Lee, mother
of Robert E. Lee.

THE PLAYROOM. The small room next to the girls’ bedroom served various
purposes. When the girls were young it was their playroom. Later it was
probably a dressing room, as indicated by the original shelves and coat
pegs. It was also used by Annie Lee for the Sunday school she conducted
for the children of the family servants. According to tradition, the
miniature secretary at the back of the room was a childhood possession
of Mr. Custis’ sister, Nellie, who gave it to Mrs. Lee when she was
little. Later it was given by Lee to his goddaughter, Nannie Randolph

    [Illustration: _The playroom._]

    [Illustration: _Custis bedroom._]

THE OUTER HALL. Visitors return to the first floor by the steep service
stairway, intended primarily for the convenience of members of the
family and servants. Like the second floor hall, the stairwell is
painted as it was originally—a light peach. Beyond is the outer hall,
originally the serving pantry for the nearby dining room. Here in its
old location stands the walnut cupboard to which each night at bedtime
Colonel Lee is said to have come for a glass of milk, brought there from
the dairy room under the south wing.

THE CUSTIS ROOMS. An inner hall gave private access to the two small
rooms in the north wing occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Custis in the years
before the main part of the house was completed. Later they were
probably used for guest rooms until such time as the size of the Lee
family and the Custises’ advancing years made it advisable for them to
reoccupy their old suite. In the larger room is the bed Custis bought
about 1805; in the smaller room, under the window, is a small mahogany
candle stand once owned by Martha Washington and later part of the
Arlington furnishings.

The wooden mantelpiece in the sitting room is the oldest one in the
house, and its disproportionate size indicates that it was made for the
large unused chimney breast in the inner hall.

    [Illustration: _The wooden mantelpiece in the Custis bedroom is the
    oldest in the house, dating from its earliest years._]

THE SCHOOLROOM. This may have been Mrs. Lee’s bedroom when she was a
little girl and her parents occupied the adjoining rooms. After the main
part of the house was built, it was used as a sewing room and a
schoolroom for the Lee children and those of the house servants. The old
terrestrial globe is one of the most interesting original objects in the
mansion, having been found tucked away in the attic under the eaves by
workmen repairing the roof some years ago. The small pine table on which
it stands is also an original piece. Over the globe is a framed
photograph of Comdr. Sidney Smith Lee, brother of Robert E. Lee. The
walls and woodwork, like those of most of the rooms, have been restored
to their original color.

    [Illustration: _The schoolroom._]

    [Illustration: _The winter kitchen._]

THE WINTER KITCHEN. The huge fireplace in the winter kitchen under the
north wing helped to warm the rooms above during the cold months of the
year. The portion of the room beyond the chimney was used as a laundry.

THE WINE CELLAR. A quarterly return from one of Mr. Custis’ estates,
dated 1822, lists “2 hogsheads of cider, 2 barrels of A[pple] Brandy” as
having been sent to Arlington. It was probably stored in this cool, dark
room, together with the scuppernong wine made from grapes grown along
the edge of the garden north of the mansion. Here also were kept the
choicer vintages used for entertaining.

THE SERVANTS’ QUARTERS. Two low buildings which harmonize
architecturally with the main house form two sides of the court in the
rear of the mansion. That on the north had a summer kitchen in the
basement, its other rooms being occupied by the family servants. Perhaps
because dampness made it unhealthy, the basement was filled in some
years before 1861, but it is now restored to its original condition. The
well between this building and the house is original, though the stone
coping and roof are a restoration.

    [Illustration: _The north servants’ quarters and the well._]

The corresponding building to the south was familiarly known as
“Selina’s House,” because its western end was occupied by Mrs. Lee’s
personal maid, Selina Gray, and her family. The middle room was the
smokehouse, and on the east end was the storeroom where nonperishable
household provisions were kept. The small panels over the doors were
originally painted by Mr. Custis, the one in the center depicting
General Washington’s war horse and the others, American eagles. Old
photographs show similar panels decorating the north quarters, but these
have long since weathered away.

    [Illustration: _The Custis-Lee Mansion as seen from the west._]

THE GARDENS. The flower garden originally occupied the large level plot
south of the mansion. Gravel paths divided the area into flower beds,
and in the center stood a wooden arbor almost covered with yellow
jasmine and honeysuckle. Mr. Custis had laid out the garden in his early
years, but the responsibility for its care was soon assumed by Mrs.
Custis, who loved flowers. Mrs. Lee acquired her mother’s interest in
gardening and had her own flower beds, while each of her daughters, as
soon as they were old enough, were given small plots in which to grow
their favorite blooms. Roses of different species predominated, the
Cherokee being a favorite of Mrs. Custis’, but there were also many
other kinds of flowers and plants. It was the family custom to exchange
seeds and plants with friends and relatives, thus adding to the variety
of lovely blooms at Arlington.

North of the mansion, on the site of the present rose garden, was the
“kitchen garden” where the vegetables used by the household were grown.
Here were strawberry and asparagus beds, tomato vines and many other
vegetables, as well as a number of fruit trees. The gardens were very
important to the Lees, and in June of 1860 Robert E. Lee wrote to his
daughter Annie, saying, “I was very glad to receive, my Sweet Annie,
your letter ... to hear that the garden, trees, and hill at Arlington
looked beautiful....” The building at the north end is not an original
structure, though it stands on the site of an earlier outbuilding.

THE GRAVE OF MARY RANDOLPH. The grave of Mary Randolph, believed to have
been Mrs. Lee’s godmother, is a short distance from the northeast corner
of the mansion, down the Custis walk which here approximates the course
of the old carriage driveway. Mrs. Randolph was related to both the
Custises and the Lees and was well known in the early part of the
nineteenth century as the author of an extremely popular cookbook, _The
Virginia Housewife_. She and her husband, David Meade Randolph, were
often at Arlington, the latter being the inventor of a special
waterproof stucco used on part of the exterior of the mansion. Mrs.
Randolph died in 1828 and was the first person buried at Arlington. The
ivy growing on the brick enclosure about her tomb is said to have been
planted by Mr. and Mrs. Custis.

THE CUSTIS GRAVES. A few hundred yards southwest of the mansion,
Doubleday Walk passes a small plot enclosed by an iron fence. Here
beneath the beautiful trees in the spot selected by Mrs. Lee are the
graves of her mother and father. Colonel Lee ordered the marble
monuments from New York, specifying that a wreath of lilies of the
valley and heartsease should be carved on the one for Mrs. Custis’
grave. He also supervised their erection.

                    _Visitor Service and Facilities_

The mansion is located in Arlington National Cemetery and is reached by
way of Arlington Memorial Bridge. Bus service is available via Arlington
Memorial Bridge to the main gate of the cemetery. Automobiles use the
same approach and may be parked near the mansion. Visiting hours,
October through March, are from 9:30 a. m. to 4:30 p. m.; April through
September, 9:30 a. m. to 6 p. m. There is a small admission charge,
which is waived for children and educational groups.


Custis-Lee Mansion National Memorial is administered by the National
Capital Parks of the National Park Service, United States Department of
the Interior. Other national memorials administered by the National
Capital Parks are: The Lincoln Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial,
the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Museum, and the House Where Lincoln
Died. Communications should be addressed to the Superintendent, National
Capital Parks, Interior Building, Washington 25, D. C.

                          _Suggested Readings_

  Alexander, E. P. _Military Memoirs of a Confederate._ Charles
  Scribner’s Sons, New York, N. Y. 1907.

  Custis, George Washington Parke. _The Recollections and Private
  Memoirs of Washington._ Derby and Jackson, New York, N. Y. 1860.

  Craven, Avery (Ed.). _To Markie: The Letters of Robert E. Lee to
  Martha Custis._ Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1934.

  Fishwick, Marshall. _General Lee’s Photographer._ University of North
  Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, N. C. 1954.

  Freeman, Douglas Southall. _R. E. Lee: A Biography._ 4 Vols.
  Scribner’s Sons, New York, N. Y.

  Jones, J. W. _Personal Reminiscences, Anecdotes, and Letters of Robert
  E. Lee._ D. Appleton & Co., New York, N. Y. 1875.

  Lee, Capt. Robert E. _Recollections and Letters of Gen. Robert E.
  Lee._ Garden City Publishing Co., New York, N. Y. 1924.

  Lowther, Minnie Kendall. _Mount Vernon—Its Children, Its Romances, Its
  Allied Families and Mansions._ John C. Winston Co., Philadelphia, Pa.

  MacDonald, Rose Mortimer. _Mrs. Robert E. Lee._ Ginn & Co., New York,
  N. Y.

  Tobert, Allice Coyle. _Eleanor Calvert and Her Circle._
  William-Frederick Press, New York, N. Y. 1950.

                         NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
                       HISTORICAL HANDBOOK SERIES

(Price lists of National Park Service publications may be obtained from
                    the Superintendent of Documents,
                          Washington 25, D.C.)

  Chickamauga and Chattanooga Battlefields
  Custer Battlefield
  Custis-Lee Mansion, the Robert E. Lee Memorial
  Fort Laramie
  Fort McHenry
  Fort Necessity
  Fort Pulaski
  Fort Raleigh
  Fort Sumter
  George Washington Birthplace
  Guilford Courthouse
  Hopewell Village
  Jamestown, Virginia
  Kings Mountain
  The Lincoln Museum and the House Where Lincoln Died
  Manassas (Bull Run)
  Montezuma Castle
  Morristown, a Military Capital of the Revolution
  Petersburg Battlefields
  Scotts Bluff
  Statue of Liberty
  Vanderbilt Mansion

    [Illustration: Sketch of Robert E. Lee]

                          Transcriber’s Notes

—Silently corrected a few typos.

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

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