The Parke-Custis Mansion

Do you recognize this house?

The mansion was built on the orders of George Washington Parke Custis, a step-grandson and “adopted” son of George Washington and only grandson of Martha Washington. Custis was a prominent resident of what was then known as Alexandria County, at the time a part of the District of Columbia. George Hadfield, an English architect who also worked on the design of the United States Capitol, designed the mansion. Construction began eleven years after L’Enfant’s Plan for the future city of Washington, D.C., had designated an area directly across the Potomac River to be the site of the “President’s house” (now the White House) and the “Congress house” (now the United States Capitol).

It still stands, one of only two houses with a direct connection to George Washington himself, it may also be the second most famous house in the United States (after the White House).

It was stolen from the last owner by the US Government (because the owners wife failed to pay her property taxes, in person) in wartime. The owner’s son won it back about ten years later and sold it back to the government. You see it was no longer a particularly nice place to live, the government had used the lawn and even the rose garden as a cemetery. In fact, the government, in its vindictiveness buried the first soldiers, members of a colored Infantry unit, in the châtelaine’s prized rose garden. It did this while the owner, a soldier, who loved it above all material things, was on active duty. As you would surmise from looking at the house, the owner, was in fact, a general. He was, perhaps, the most famous American general in history.

Who was he?

He was the son of a Revolutionary hero, nicknamed Light-Horse Harry for his skill with the cavalry. He married the Step-Granddaughter of George Washington. He was one of the most intrepid of officers in the Mexican War, the first group of officers to have the stars fall on them.

He was Robert Edward Lee, General, Confederate States Army, The house is now called Arlington House, here is a reasonably current picture.

The cemetery is Arlington National Cemetery. And so although it was started with some of the basest motives of revenge and rancor, it has become most meet and fit. Now America’s best and bravest sleep around the house of America’s best general. The very man who once said that:

Duty is the most sublime word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.

Those resting around his house have certainly done their duty, beyond compare.
And so as we celebrate Memorial/ Decoration Day let us remember all those who have done their duty, even unto the last full measure of devotion.
In a related matter, General Lee’s citizenship was restored by Public Law 94-67 signed by President Ford on 5 August 1975 thus restoring him to citizenship in the country he loved second only to Virginia, itself.

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5 Responses to The Parke-Custis Mansion

  1. AFVET says:

    A great piece of history.


    • Thanks, AFVET. It’s a story that should be told more.


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  3. Pingback: Gen. George Washington; the Original One Percenter? « CITIZEN.BLOGGER.1984+ GUNNY.G BLOG.EMAIL

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