Arlington House reopens to the public
April 29, 2013
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va. - Arlington House, built by a George Washington descendant and the hilltop residence of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, was officially reopened to curious footsteps and inquisitive eyes April 20.
With six years of restoration dust swept away, the weekend ribbon-cutting ceremony preceded a day of speeches, how-to demonstrations and a literal open house on the hill overlooking Arlington National Cemetery. The weekend event marked the first time the entire house was open to the public and furnished since 2006.
"Today is a day we've been looking forward to for quite some time," National Park Service Site Manager Brandon Bies told a group of VIP guests and visitors during his opening remarks. "When this project began six years ago, no one could have imagined that this would take this long and rehabilitating this national treasure would end up being so complex. In the end, Arlington House was left stronger, prettier and safer for its museum collections and staff and volunteers."
Trials and tribulations during the Lee-Custis Mansion upgrade included personnel moves, the discovery of Civil War graffiti behind dilapidated paint and a collection move during Hurricane Sandy. After the renovation was concluded on the home of George Washington Parke Custis and Lee, new fire suppression and climate management systems were in place where the most famous Confederate general was married and later resigned his U.S. Army commission. Incidentally, the day of the rededication was the 152nd anniversary of Lee's resignation from the Army.
Arlington House was constructed by Washington Parke Custis, the step-grandson of the country's first commander-in-chief, as an everlasting memorial to the president. Custis' daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, married Robert E. Lee at the mansion June 30, 1831.
Keynote speakers at the ribbon cutting included NPS Director Jon Jarvis and Virginia Congressman Jim Moran. The long-time 8th district representative mentioned that the Arlington House preservation is due to NPS diligence.
"This is a part of the planet that people from all over the world come to see," Moran told the crowd from the front portico of the mansion.
"There were lots of times throughout history where we could have lost this if we didn't have people who cared enough to make sure this was going to be here for future generations. People realized its value. [The park service] realizes value."
Following and before the ceremony, the Federal City Brass Band performed Civil War period numbers, while cannon and musket demonstrations encircled the grounds.
The historical significance of the Lee mansion was also discussed throughout the day. The links intertwining its history as a freedman's village, a plantation and soil coveted by Union troops on the eve of war were defined in words to cemetery tourists. According to Park Ranger Matt Penrod, the multi-columned home bonded two military icons, Washington and Lee, who respectively served in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Today, Arlington House serves as a memorial to both men.
"This house in many ways was our nation's first memorial," Penrod said. "[It was] the first presidential memorial, the first monument, the first historical museum dedicated to honor the memory of the birth, the founding of this country. This house had deep meaning even when Robert E. Lee was living here."