Arlington House at Arlington National Cemetery – Worth a Visit

Arlington House at Arlington National Cemetery is that fancy mansion on the hill you can see from the National Mall and the Washington DC waterfront.

A visit to Arlington House offers the opportunity to learn about a fascinating period in history. The landmark mansion is located on a prominent hill overlooking the gravesites of fallen service members, President John F Kennedy family gravesite, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. From the porch you’ll find sweeping views of the Potomac River, National Mall and beyond.

Today the building and grounds are overseen by The National Park Service. Renovations in 2021, both inside the house and the outbuildings, were restored to resemble the homestead in 1861 when Mary Custis-Lee lived there. Custis-Lee was the great granddaughter of Martha and George Washington, and the wife of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Prior to the Civil War, more than 100 Americans were enslaved there.

On display are original furnishings and artifacts, including a china set owned by George and Martha Washington. The house is Greek-Revival style and designed by George Hadfield.

The home was constructed in 1802 by Martha Custis Washington’s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, in honor of his stepfather, the first president of the United States. Custis named the property “Arlington” after the Custis family’s homestead on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Many of the paintings were painted by George Parke Custis.

The interpretive panels explain how the house was taken over by the Union Army when the Civil War broke out. That’s when the Army began burying Union soldiers there. Quartermaster General of the United States Army Montgomery C. Meigs proposed using 200 acres of the Arlington Estate as a cemetery. United States Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton designated the property as a military cemetery in 1864, naming it Arlington National Cemetery.

The estate illuminates stories of the enslaved people who toiled there, like caretaker Selina Grey who contacted Union General George McClellan about the graffiti and other destruction Union soldiers had committed on the property.

Another momentous event occurred at Arlington just two years ago – the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This monument honors the U.S. service members whose remains have not been identified. It was originally constructed in 1921 during World War I.  

I recommend you take a bus tour of Arlington National Cemetery to see all the important sights and learn more of the history of the cemetery.

Here’s a view of Arlington House from the John F. Kennedy Memorial Gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery.

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Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.

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