The Restoration of Arlington House
Enoch Aquila Chase

Note: The following is taken from the Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C. (volume 33/34, 1932), pp. 239–65.




(Read Before the Society, February 17, 1931.)

The “restoration” of Arlington House, the old Custis-Lee Mansion in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, goes forward day by day. By the authority and under the appropriations of Congress, this historical task is nearing completion; and yet it will probably be a long time before Arlington House reaches that degree of restored perfection one sees at Mount Vernon, some sixteen miles farther down the Potomac.

Congress has been fairly generous with funds, and the officers of the Quartermaster General’s Office have diligently and intelligently applied themselves to the restoration work. Unfortunately, however, all the money Congress might appropriate cannot bring back to Arlington House some of the now priceless possessions that became scattered far and wide, or lost completely, during the dark days of the great Civil War. Mrs. Robert E. Lee, the only surviving child of George Washington Parke Custis, the Master of Arlington House Estate, was the last to leave Arlington in May, 1861. Colonel Lee had gone to Richmond to assume command of the Confederate forces that soon became the Army of Northern Virginia, but Mrs. Lee remained. She worked with desperate haste to dismantle the great house of its family treasures before the Union troops should cross the Potomac from Washington and seize all the high hills on the Virginia side, as a protection to the Nation’s Capital. There were the priceless heirlooms from Mount Vernon, inherited by her father from his grandmother, Martha Washington; the very bed upon which Washington had died; paintings, silver, china, furniture, to say nothing of slaves, horses, carriages, and all the domestic implements of a large plantation. With frantic energy Mrs. Lee attacked the gigantic task alone, except for the “help” on the place. Most of the precious heirlooms from Mount Vernon, the pride of Arlington House for over fifty years, were saved. The nation’s foremost relic, the bed upon which Washington died, was loaded upon a farm wagon and went bumping over the deep-rutted country roads deeper into Virginia—safe behind the Confederate lines. Much of the family plate, silver, furniture and portraits went the same way; there was no other means of transportation.

Who is there today that knows what became of all the furniture and equipment that was a part of Arlington House in the heyday of its social reign? Apparently, not a living person, and no written record of any sort has been found. Even the original plans for the building of the mansion have never come to light. Save for those things that came to Arlington House from Mount Vernon and are now returned there permanently, very little is known of the original furnishings of this grand old mansion; set like a gem amidst the foliage of the Virginia Hills. Unless the patriotic women of the southland come forward and lend a hand, contributing a table here, a chair there, or an old bedstead of the period, it may be many years before the restoration can be completed. Perhaps the tall flagpole directly in front of the mansion—flying the Stars and Stripes—has something to do with the lack of interest in gifts of period furniture from below the Mason and Dixon line. That has been suggested. Arlington House was a southern home; its very atmosphere is saturated with the early history of Virginia, of the Custises, Lees, Fitzhughs and Randolphs, and with the great civil strife that split the nation in twain and set brother against brother.

Quartermaster General Cheatham wanted to take the flagpole down and move it to a more appropriate part of the grounds in the great national cemetery. It does in fact interfere with the proper restoration of Arlington House. In the days of George Washington Parke Custis there was no flagpole in front of his stately home. On that spot where the lofty white pole permits Old Glory to be flung to the morning breeze, the Master of Arlington was wont to set up the Revolutionary War tent of George Washington, whenever he had some particularly distinguished guest he wished to honor. In later years, in June, 1831, when the tall and handsome Lieutenant Robert E. Lee, U.S.A., married the heiress of Arlington House Estate, and even in October, 1859, when as a Lieutenant Colonel he hurriedly left Arlington and his wife and children, to suppress the ill-fated John Brown raid upon the U.S. Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, there was no flagpole upon the lawn. And, finally, in the dark days of April, 1861, when he sat at his desk in the small south room on the ground floor of Arlington House and penned his farewell letter to General Winfield Scott, there was no flagpole from which floated his country’s flag to torment his already tortured soul. “Save in defense of my native state, I never desire again to draw my sword,” wrote Colonel Lee.

But the Quartermaster General’s disposition to move the flagpole even a hundred feet met with violent opposition. The old men of the G.A.R. arose and with lusty voices condemned it bitterly. That flag had floated from that pole for more than fifty years; over the graves of men who had poured out their life’s blood that the Union might be saved. Thus, the controversy raged until General Cheatham threw up his hands. The flagpole is still in front of Arlington House. In the effort to remove it from one spot to another, adjacent but more in keeping with the program of restoration, the Quartermaster General cannot, of course, be said to have meant any disrespect to the legions of Union veterans, who fought and died for their country.

Despite all this, there have not been entirely lacking patriotic southern families and individuals who were willing to contribute acceptable gifts to the restoration of Arlington House. Mrs. James Peyton Powell, of Huntsville, Alabama, has been particularly generous, and has given many valuable things to rehabilitate the old mansion to something like its former elegance and grandeur. The family of that distinguished Confederate cavalry officer, Holmes Conrad, of Winchester, Virginia, who years after the Civil War became a great lawyer and Solicitor-General for the United States, have generously come forward with several very handsome and valuable pieces of period furniture, that now grace the northwest bedroom, immediately across the hall from the bedroom of General and Mrs. Lee. Among these gifts is a large, colonial, fourposter bed, and the fittings to go with it.


The descendants of Captain E. Hayne Davis, a Confederate officer who served under General Lee, have contributed a handsome mahogany colonial sideboard. Mr. D. Tucker Brown, of Alexandria, Virginia, has loaned a double-pedestal, Duncan Phyfe dining table that once belonged to that strange political fantastic, John Randolph of Roanoke. Some few other persons have also made suitable contributions, and their names and gifts are being carefully recorded for the forthcoming catalogue being compiled by the Depot Quartermaster of Washington. Only in this way can the work of restoration be speeded to a conclusion; by interested persons, who will give as they may, perhaps in memory of General and Mrs. Lee, or Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis, the first Mistress of Arlington, daughter of Colonel William Fitzhugh of Chatham, that beautiful old estate immediately across the Rappahannock from old Fredericksburg, where George Washington generously confessed he had put his legs under the mahogany oftener than any other place in the world, “and enjoyed your good dinners, good wine and good company, more than any other.”

One of the first things that occupied the attention of the Quartermaster General’s Office after Congress had authorized the restoration of Arlington House, was whether or not the Mount Vernon Ladies Association would permit the heirlooms of George Washington that fell to George Washington Parke Custis upon the death of his grandmother in 1802, to be reproduced. The question was carefully considered by the Mount Vernon ladies. After considerable delay they announced that the Government might measure, photograph and reproduce all pieces at Mount Vernon that were once at Arlington House, except only the bed upon which George Washington died. The Regents of Mount Vernon do

not desire that there shall be any copy of the Washington bed. The Regents have assented to the Quartermaster General’s request to be allowed to reproduce the old hall lantern, which was a gift to Lawrence Washington from Admiral Vernon of the British Navy, under whom he served at the siege of Carthegena. This famous old lantern was also taken to Arlington House by George Washington Parke Custis and it hung there for over half a century. When the Lees abandoned Arlington in May, 1861, the old lantern was left hanging in the hall, and with everything else that was left behind, it was brought to Washington, where it ultimately found its way into the National Museum; from whence it was removed in 1901 back to Mount Vernon, where it hangs in its old place in the hall.

The old controversy over the Washington relics that were left in Arlington House by Mrs. Lee when she went to join her husband in Richmond in 1861, and were afterwards removed to Washington for “safe-keeping,” is still remembered by some southern people. At that time some correspondence passed between Mrs. Lee and General Irvin McDowell, in command at Arlington, and the General admitted that George Washington’s famous punch bowl had been stolen. It was later recovered. In 1869 Mrs. Leet pleaded with President Andrew Johnson for the return of the things found by Union soldiers in the attic and basement of Arlington House. Recognizing her undoubted claim to her property, President Johnson promptly ordered everything returned to her. But Congress, even in those days in an investigating mood, interfered by an act of inquiry, which delayed a matter of simple justice until long after Mrs. Lee had joined her distinguished husband in death. The Government did not relinquish these Washington relics until 1901, when President McKinley ordered that the restoration be made. Yet even today, in the National Museum may still be seen some of them that the Lee children consented should remain in the hands of the Government. For a long time—many years in fact—the Mount Vernon Ladies Association tried in vain to obtain possession of some of these relics; armed with written authority from General George Washington Custis Lee, the eldest son, who had succeeded his father as President of Washington and Lee University at Lexington, Virginia.

Some interesting side-lights have occurred to the officers of the Quartermaster General’s Office since the restoration work was begun, nearly two years ago. An old Union soldier wrote a letter stating that he had carried away from Arlington two large old-fashioned custard cups, which he had retained as souvenirs for over fifty years; but that, having heard of the restoration of the old place he wanted to return them and clear his conscience. Another wrote in the same vein, that he had purloined a brass key, which he wished to restore to Arlington House. Both offers were accepted. With three very good pieces of furniture, there have been given to Arlington House recently some papers taken from there during the Civil War. Among them is a letter from Mary Lee Fitzhugh to George Washington Parke Custis, written prior to their marriage, and addressed to him at “Mount Washington.” One old soldier, visiting the place, grew wroth because the old well where he used to slake his thirst had long since disappeared, although at the same spot was a water hydrant for the convenience of visitors. The well has been restored and the hydrant is concealed. Of course, no natural wells or springs that bubble up from the ground in Arlington can be used, where there are so many thousands of graves.

The restoration of the exterior and interior of the mansion—exclusive of the furnishings—did not present any great difficulty. The building had always been kept in good repair during the fifty years and more it was used as living quarters and office by the Superintendent of the cemetery, and partly also by the head gardener. Nothing had ever been allowed to go to wrack and ruin, notwithstanding some minor changes made at times, principally in the lower floors of the house. When the modern floors in some of the lower rooms were taken up to be replaced with the old-style, wide flooring, it was usually found that the ancient, hand-hewn beams of oak, fastened with long, handmade, wooden pegs, were almost as good as the day they were laid, back in 1803. Up in the attic the beams and trusses supporting the huge roof—timbers cut from the adjacent woods on the plantation, some with the bark still intact—are apparently as solid and strong today as ever; while the quaint hand-split laths are still gripped in the pulverized oystershell lime, so frequently employed in the days when Arlington House was built. Nearly everything that went into the building of the mansion and outbuildings came from the estate; stone for the foundations from the old quarry down under the hill; brick burned from Virginia clay, and hand-hewn timbers and lumber from the forest.

The northeast bedroom, where the great Lafayette slept when he was the guest of George Washington Parke Custis in October, 1824, is just about as it was a century and more ago; even to the broad boards in the floor and the marble mantelpiece, but no one knows where is the bed upon which he rested. Unfortunately, the handsome, carved, mahogany four-poster bed one sees in his room today, which is one of the finest examples of the wood-carver’s art, is not owned by the Government, nor is it to remain there permanently. It is only a loan.

The southwest bedroom, once occupied by General and Mrs. Lee, presents rather a completed appearance today. Unfortunately, again, the handsome four-poster bed in this room is likewise loaned for the time being, and will not remain permanently in Arlington House. The enormous four-poster bed and other fine pieces of mahogany that were given by the family of Holmes Conrad are to be found in the northwest bedroom. All the real bedrooms of the mansion are upon the second floor; the attic floor was never finished. After the Lees made Arlington their home and began to acquire a large family of children, it became necessary for Mr. and Mrs. Custis to betake themselves to the lower floor of the house for their private quarters. For this purpose they fitted up two smaller rooms in the north end of the ground floor, where they had their bedrooms, and here both of them died; Mrs. Custis in April, 1853, and Mr. Custis in October, 1857. Each bedroom on the second floor of the house had a large dressing room adjoining. Between the two front bedrooms there was a small hall room, divided in the center by a partition, one-half of which belonged to each larger room as a dressing closet. Evidently, in later years, with the growth of the Lee family, it became necessary to convert this hall room into a single bedroom; because the partition was torn out and an entrance way cut into it from the upstairs hall. Thus five bedrooms were created out of four, the small hall bedroom being occupied by either one or two of the Lee boys.

The lower floor of the house begins to assume some restored form. The Depot Quartermaster has recently acquired a very handsome old grandfather’s clock, which stands in the main hall. This clock was presented by the Chief of Engineers of the Army. It had been in his office at the War Department almost from the time of the Civil War. It was made in England by a famous firm of clock-makers and was put in running order recently, with no replacement of its original works. On its face is to be found the name of an old Georgetown firm of jewelers and clock-sellers, Burnett & Rigden, who originally sold it. The identity of that old firm was made from an advertisement of their’s in the National Intelligencer of 1803, which was obtained by searching the files of the Washingtoniana Division of the Public Library.

There was also recently acquired a very fine old harpsichord, or at least an ancient piano, which was donated from the abundance of such at the National Museum. It was built about 1820 by the Clemente Company, of London.

The state dining room will soon be enriched by two console tables and reproductions of two sets of dining room chairs, Sheraton and Hepplewhite, copied from the originals in the National Museum. The original chairs once belonged to George Washington. Some of these chairs will be placed in the family dining room, back of the north parlor or drawing-room.



Another recent acquisition is a very fine Kermanshah rug, which is soon to be placed in the family dining room, and a mahogany Hepplewhite four-poster bed, intended for the downstairs bedroom of Mr. and Mrs. Custis, which is now almost entirely unfurnished.

The Depot Quartermaster is at present deep in the consideration of proper bedroom curtains for the upper floors of the house. It is planned to use simple white dimity curtains. It will be remembered that Martha Washington, in her will, left to George Washington Parke Custis a certain bed with dimity hangings and valance, and the white dimity curtains in a certain bedroom. Whatever has become of that bed is unknown, but the idea of the dimity curtains for the upper bedrooms of Arlington House originates in the will of Martha Washington.

Of the many Custis and Lee family portraits that once adorned the spacious walls of Arlington House, practically all are known and located today. Most of them are at the Washington and Lee University at Lexington, either owned by the university corporation, or otherwise loaned by the descendants of General and Mrs. Lee. Since the Government may not—or cannot, because of the limited appropriations available—purchase what are wanted for Arlington House, copies will have to be made from time to time as funds for the purpose become available. The National Society of Colonial Wars has already defrayed the expense of copying the famous portrait of George Washington in the uniform of a Virginia colonel of militia, painted by Charles Willson Peale in 1772; the first well-known picture of the General. This portrait is now finished, and the Society presenting it has asked permission to exhibit it in the reproduction of Mount Vernon at the Colonial Exposition in Paris next summer; after which it will be returned to this country and hung in Arlington House.

The Custis family also owned the much-prized portrait of Lafayette by the same artist, painted in 1779, and believed to have been presented to Washington by the great Frenchman himself. There, also, was the painting of Colonel Daniel Parke, by Sir Godfrey Kneller in 1707. Colonel Parke was aide-de-camp to the Duke of Marlborough in the famous campaign in 1704, and was the first to bring to Queen Anne the news of the victory of Blenheim. As a token of her royal gratitude, the gracious queen presented him with a diamond-studded brooch, with her miniature painted thereon, which the dashing colonel wore when he sat for this portrait. Also, among the collection were paintings of Daniel Parke Custis, first husband of Martha Washington, and of Martha Washington herself, as Mrs. Daniel Parke Custis, both by Wollaston in 1757; of Mrs. Lawrence Lewis (Nelly Custis), and “Light Horse Harry” Lee, both by Gilbert Stuart. In 1853, the historian, Benson J. Lossing, shortly after a visit to Arlington House, described the Sharpies drawings of George and Martha Washington as owned by Mr. Custis; and a miniature of Mrs. Washington, by Robertson, made in 1791.


One curious thing has come to light as the restoration program has developed that doubtless merits special attention. In the north parlor or drawing room on the main floor of the mansion are two finely-carved marble mantelpieces, surrounding each fireplace in that large room. Each one is undoubtedly the work of skilled Italian artists and made long ago. None of the mantelpieces in the great room south of the main hall or in the large dining room adjoining are hand-carved, or anything except very plain marble. But at Woodlawn, near Mount Vernon, the home of Nelly Custis, the younger sister of Mr. Custis, who married Lawrence Lewis, are two very similar hand-carved marble mantelpieces, that have been judged by a competent expert to be companion pieces to the ones in the north drawing room at Arlington House. His theory is—and it is not at all unlikely—that Mr. Custis had four of these beautiful marble mantelpieces made for Arlington House, but that he retained only two of them, giving the other pair to Nelly Custis Lewis, for her home at Woodlawn.

The outbuildings close to the mansion are likewise being brought back as near as possible to the same condition as they were in the old days when George Washington Parke Custis was one of Virginia’s foremost country gentlemen, and monarch of nearly all he could survey; except when he looked eastward from his highpillared portico and observed the low-lying Maryland shore miles away across the placid bosom of the Potomac, and the budding National Capital just emerging from the wilderness.

The two one-story and attic outbuildings immediately in the rear of the mansion comprised the summer kitchen, laundry, smoke-house, and quarters for some of the household slaves and their families. Daniel Dotson, the old master’s favorite coachman, lived here. Only the old stable, that matched the house with its white columns, is long since gone; destroyed by fire many years ago. It is contemplated ultimately to restore this old stable, or at least insofar as the front of the building is concerned. The design has been made and approved, taken from an old picture that has been preserved, and it will be built upon the spot where the old stable once stood. If Congress approves the Quartermaster General’s estimate of the cost for doing this work, it is planned to turn the reconstructed building into the administrative building for Arlington Cemetery, where the Superintendent will have his offices. This is much to be desired, because at present these offices necessarily have to occupy a part of the north wing of the ground floor of the mansion, which greatly interferes with the restoration program.

When attention was turned to the old outbuildings, there was only one old negro man who remembered just how each portion had been used in the long ago. Without his help the various uses of those buildings and how they were originally made up and divided, would never have been known. His name was James Parks, but to everyone in and about Arlington he was “Uncle Jim,” and he was the last of the homefolks. Born a slave upon Arlington plantation nearly a century ago, as were all his forebears, brothers and sisters, Uncle Jim was a page out of the past. For over eighty-five years he had lived and toiled in and about the estate and the national cemetery. He well remembered his old master and mistress and years later, how Colonel Lee used to ride over the estate when he had the good fortune to be at home with his wife and children. Uncle Jim had a photographic mind; he remembered all the changes that had come to Arlington. He had stood beside the grave on that October day in 1857, when they laid his master away beneath the trees, just as he had watched them bury Mrs. Custis in the same spot in April, 1853. He had seen the war come and bring misery and suffering to the colored folks, most of whom lived on at Arlington, cultivating their own plots of ground, even after they had been made free by the master’s will. He said he saw Mrs. Lee drive away in the family carriage on that fair day in May, 1861, with an escort of Federal cavalry and a pass, furnished by General McDowell, to take her safely through to the Confederate lines. And when the war was over, he had seen the bodies of dead soldiers brought to Arlington by the thousands to be buried in the evergrowing national cemetery; “piled up like cordwood,” faster than the graves could be dug to receive them into hallowed ground.

From all this panorama of events, stretching over nearly a century, Uncle Jim must have become a bewildered, tired, old man, toward the close of his eventful life; but he never faltered. To him Arlington was home; all his kith and kin were buried in the old slave burying-ground down near the river shore, including his grandfather, George Clark, head cook at the mansion in the early days, and a “gift” from George Washington to his adopted son. He lived to be morfc than one hundred years old.

In August, 1929, old Uncle Jim joined his ancestors beneath the sod in Arlington, notwithstanding the fact that he had never been a soldier or a sailor. On account of his long and useful life in the service of the Government, the Secretary of War issued a special order permitting his remains to be buried in the national cemetery. And that was the last earthly wish for Uncle Jim; to be buried where he had been born. He sleeps amidst the army of dead heroes, for so many of whom he had himself prepared their last resting-places, when the old plantation days were no more. His epitaph, which I composed myself, written in bronze upon a white marble stone over his grave, reads as follows:


An interesting, respectful, kindly old negro; born a slave at Arlington House Estate about 1843. Died, Arlington County, Virginia, August 21, 1929. He belonged to George Washington Parke Custis, proprietor of Arlington Estate from 1781 to 1857. “Uncle Jim” lived and worked at Arlington practically the. whole of his long and useful life. In appreciation of his faithful service the Secretary of War granted special permission to bury his mortal remains in this National Cemetery.

Requiescat in Pace.

It is not known that any of Mrs. Lee’s servants of Arlington House survive today, but some of their descendants have been located in nearby Fairfax County. From them have been purchased several old pieces of furniture, stated positively to have been used in the mansion, and now reclaimed and restored; a walnut cupboard, supposedly given away by Mrs. Lee many years ago; two candle-stands, one of which is claimed to have been used in Miss Mary Lee’s bedroom, and a small Wedgwood pitcher that would delight the eye of any collector. These few things are all that have been recovered.

Both the summer and the winter kitchens are partially equipped. Many things are needed to restore them to what they were like in the days of the Custises and the Lees. The laundry, adjoining the summer kitchen, is not furnished at all. The old smokehouse has been restored; even the many coats of whitewash scraped off of the walls, until the blackened stones underneath are exposed to view. Before long, perhaps, there will be seen hanging from the rafters fine hams and sides of bacon that may make the peeping visitors smack their lips with gastronomic ecstasy. However, it would hardly do for them to try to gratify their appetites, inasmuch as these delectable-looking objects will likely be made of papier-maché, artistically painted and decorated to simulate real hams and bacon.

George Washington Parke Custis’s old wine cellar has been partially restored. At least, there are innumerable racks for wine bottles, and even some bottles—but they are empty. The Depot Quartermaster has experienced some difficulty in finding, in this day and generation, a connoisseur sufficiently skilled and willing to undertake the task of supervising the completion of the wine cellar; likely candidates for the job feeling no doubt that by so doing they might possibly fall under the suspicion of the prohibition enforcement unit, and wishing to avoid even the appearance of evil.

Much additional equipment will be needed to adequately furnish those sections of the outbuildings near the mansion that were occupied by some of the household slaves. Old fireplaces therein, long since walled up, have been, uncovered, and there are a few odd pieces of old furniture to be seen in these rooms. Considerable difficulty will be encountered in this particular, since it is not known, of course, how these quarters were actually furnished a hundred years ago. Only a few of the household slaves lived near the house, most of the quarters were far removed to other parts of the plantation. Uncle Jim told me that except for a vegetable garden, Mr. Custis never cultivated the Arlington Estate to any appreciable extent. Consequently, he did not have a great many slaves at Arlington; very few, comparatively speaking. On his “White House” plantation, down on the Pamunkey River, he had a large number of slaves, because he cultivated that plantation very extensively.

These outbuildings were built of stone and brick, and plastered on the outside to match the mansion house. In subsequent years, they were covered with a layer of pebble-dash, which is entirely out of harmony with the outside finish of the mansion and their own original finish. Sooner or later, all this pebble-dash coating will be scraped off in order to restore the original surface; but all such things take time and money.

I have often wondered who besides myself may have noticed the faint outline of a small white horse, painted many years ago above the lintel of the smokehouse door, and a still fainter trace of an eagle over one of the other doors in the same outbuilding. These figures were doubtless painted by George Washington Parke Custis himself, and what is left of them has survived possibly a century; just as the bizarre hunting scenes at the western end of the main hall in the mansion house have survived and have been scrupulously preserved throughout the years that have come and gone at Arlington House. In his old age the Master of Arlington fancied himself a painter, or at least he fancied to paint, because he devoted much time and considerable enthusiasm to that noble art. But his hand was untutored, as one may easily judge upon beholding the grotesque figures of animals dominating the homemade frieze in the main floor hall, where he apparently began, or perhaps was persuaded by Mrs. Custis to begin and end his artistic endeavors. One may imagine the apprehension, if not consternation, of the Mistress of Arlington when the amateur painter announced his intention to decorate the walls of the mansion with specimens of his own handiwork. Being the master of the household, his desires and his will necessarily merited respectful attention, to say the least; but it can hardly be presumed, from the evidences of his skill remaining extant, that his good wife was quite as enthusiastic about her husband’s latest hobby as he was himself. Mr. Custis’s appreciation of his own ability as an artist carried him so far that he painted a number of huge canvasses depicting battle scenes of the Revolutionary War, in which George Washington was always the central figure usually upon a great white horse, and sadly out-of-drawing. The old gentleman became so much interested in his battle scenes, that he declared his purpose of leaving them to the United States Government, to be hung in the rotunda of the Capitol. The legend has been handed down that it was only with difficulty he was persuaded not to pursue the idea to a definite conclusion. What finally became of these gigantic efforts of the amateur artist, I do not know. I am only certain that they never aroused much enthusiasm, except in their creator.

An effort will sometime be made to reproduce both flower and vegetable gardens, somewhere near the mansion, but just where they will be located, if and when funds for the purpose are available, is uncertain. It would probably not be easy to find anyone living today who can remember the locations of these gardens, as they were even seventy years ago, when the Lees left the old home for Richmond. If Uncle Jim Parks were ever asked about the location of the gardens, I do not recollect. He would have known, if anyone knew, and if we all overlooked asking him for this information, it was indeed a regrettable oversight.

It will thus be realized what are some of the difficulties in the way of complying with the intent of Congress to restore Arlington House. Many more years may elapse before the undertaking can be favorably compared with Mount Vernon; where even today, things that once belonged to George Washington and his good wife Martha, are from time to time coming home again, after seventy years of restoration by the patriotic women of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union. Notwithstanding, the work will go on; appropriate gifts of furniture and equipment will continue to come to the Quartermaster General’s Office. The people of the United States are apparently aroused to the desirability, if not the necessity, of taking adequate steps to preserve something of their own antiquity for themselves and their posterity.

In the meantime, the finest memorial bridge in the world is nearing completion, and will soon span the historic Potomac from Lincoln’s white marble temple into the beautiful grounds of old Arlington House Estate.


Since the foregoing paper was read before your Society, in February, 1931, splendid progress has been made in the restoration of Arlington House. Today the restoration begins to compare very favorably with that of Mount Vernon, notwithstanding the great discrepancy in the years since each was begun, and despite the fact that Arlington will perhaps never have but precious few of the original possessions that once belonged to the Custis and Lee families.

With the now-completed magnificent Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the opening of the great Memorial Bridge spanning the Potomac from Lincoln’s temple into the lower reaches of the National Cemetery, Arlington is attracting an ever-increasing throng of visitors, day by day.


Within the past year copies of eight important—and in several instances, famous—paintings have been hung upon the walls of Arlington House. On October 26, 1931, with an appropriate ceremony held in front of the mansion, the National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, presented a fine reproduction of John Wollaston’s portrait of Mrs. Daniel Parke Custis, painted about 1757, before her marriage to George Washington. The original belonged to George Washington Parke Custis, bequeathed to him by his grandmother, Martha Washington. For many years it hung first at Mount Vernon and then at Arlington, and is now owned by Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia, as the gift of George Washington Custis Lee, who succeeded his distinguished father as president of that institution. The copy is the work of Mathilde Mueden Leisenring, wife of Luther M. Leisenring, Chief Architect of the Quartermaster Corps and also in the restoration work. Assistant Secretary of War Frederick H. Payne, in a gracious speech of acceptance, received the portrait on behalf of the United States.

Quite recently there was hung in the main hall of the mansion a copy of George Washington Parke Custis’ painting, entitled “General Washington at Yorktown,” the original of which was fortunately discovered some months ago in the City Hall of Alexandria, Virginia. Efforts were made to secure the original, but official Alexandria would not part with it. However, thanks are due to the Mayor and Council of Alexandria for permission to have this splendid copy made by Miss Hattie E. Burdette. Upon observing this painting, it does not take an artistic eye to realize that the Master of Arlington had more ambition than real talent as an artist!

Another, smaller painting, which was recently acquired through a local dealer, is known as “Washington at Valley Forge,” and now hangs in the south drawing-room of the mansion. Completely satisfactory evidence of the authenticity of this painting is lacking, but chiefly because the historian, Benson J. Lossing made no mention of it when he described other paintings by the Master of Arlington House. Nevertheless, there is reason to believe it is the work of Mr. Custis.

Another recent portrait acquisition hangs over the mantel in the family dining-room just north of the main hall. It is of Mr. Custis himself, also by Mrs. Leisenring, after the original by Samuel Blake, in the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. One is tempted to say that the Blake portrait flatters the old gentleman, being much handsomer than a reproduced photograph of him, taken at Arlington during the last years of his life.

On April 30, 1932, before a distinguished gathering, and with Brig.-Gen. L. H. Bash on behalf of the Quartermaster General of the Army, as master of ceremonies, there were presented to Arlington House by various patriotic societies, the following four notable portraits, copies of originals that hung upon the walls of the mansion in the days of the Custises and the Lees:

First, George Washington as a colonel of Virginia militia, the original painted by Charles Willson Peale at Mount Vernon in 1772. The copy was the gift of the General Society of Colonial Wars, the presentation being made by Mr. George deBenneville Keim, its Governor-General. Miss Hattie E. Burdette is the artist, and so true is her brush that the copy is scarcely distinguishable from the original, likewise owned by Washington and Lee University as the gift of George Washington Custis Lee, but now temporarily on exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, as a part of the George Washington Bicentennial Celebration.

The second of these portaits is that of Lafayette. The original, painted by Peale in 1779, is also temporarily on exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery and owned by Washington and Lee University from the same donor. This copy was likewise made by Miss Burdette, and was presented by the Society of the Cincinnati. Major Gist Blair made the presentation on behalf of the Society. It is believed that Lafayette had this portrait made expressly to present to Washington. Both of these paintings were at Mount Vernon and both came to Arlington House after the death of Martha Washington, to be the treasured possessions of Mr. Custis for more than fifty years. They remained there until the outbreak of the Civil War. Next to the bed upon which Washington died, doubtless there were no possessions of the Lee family more sacred to them than these two portraits.

The third portrait is that of General Henry Lee, “Light Horse Harry,” of the Revolutionary Army, father of General Robert E. Lee. The copy was a gift of the General Society, Sons of the Revolution, made by Maurice Hartmann from a copy of Gilbert Stuart’s portrait by Benjamin. West, and now owned by Dr. George Bolling Lee, grandson of Robert E. Lee, who permitted the reproduction to be made for Arlington House. The presentation of this portrait was made by Major John Vernon Bouvier, Jr., President-General of the Society, in an eloquent tribute to the distinguished services of that indomitable soldier and comrade-in-arms of Washington.

Last of this group is a portrait of Eleanor Parke (Nelly) Custis, presented by the General Court of the Order of Founders and Patriots of America, the presentation being made by Brig.-Gen. William E. Horton, Retired, who has loaned so many valuable pieces of antique furniture to Arlington House. The copy is by Walter Gilman Page, from a copy of Gilbert Stuart’s original painting by E. Fischer which is owned by Mrs. Hanson E. Ely, Jr., and Mrs. Hunter deButts, both descendants of General Lee.

These four portraits were gratefully accepted on behalf of the Government by Assistant Secretary of War Frederick H. Payne.

One of the principal additions to the restoration project during the past year is the reproduction—at least as to the front portico—of the brick stable that once stood across the deep ravine west of the mansion, and which was destroyed by fire many years ago. It was not intended to restore the building as a stable, but to make it the administration offices for all the executive activities connected with the Cemetery and the restoration program. However, it was both desirable and artistic to reproduce the front of the building almost exactly as it was in the past, with a portico of columns and pediment, much after the style of the mansion itself. During the past winter all offices have been moved into this new building, leaving the main floor of the north wing of the mansion freed at last for its share of the restoration. Consequently, these rooms have recently undergone a transformation. The small room in the extreme north end, formerly used by Superintendent Robert Dye as a cramped and inadequate office, is now classified as the school and sewing room. Here one may view one of the most interesting relics in the house, an old terrestrial globe which was found by workmen in the attic under the eaves, while repairing the roof. It probably belonged to the Lee children, if not actually harking back to the early years of the Custises. The other two rooms, used by Mr. and Mrs. Custis as living quarters, have lately been furnished and present a very creditable appearance; one fitted up as a sitting-room and the other as a bedroom. The reproduced four-poster in the bedroom is what the ladies would describe as “perfectly dear.” Indeed, this section of the mansion is now so quaintly and appropriately furnished that it at once challenges the admiration of casual visitors, as well as those more intimately acquainted with the interesting history of old Arlington House.


The north wing of the house was probably not finished as Mr. Custis intended it ultimately should be; notwithstanding that it was undoubtedly the first part of the mansion to be built. Outwardly, both wings of the house are identical, but inside, the space in the north end corresponding to the state dining room in the south, is divided into two small rooms and adjoining corridor. In all probability the Master of Arlington intended some day to reconstruct this north wing and build a stately drawing-room or ball-room, to correspond with the interior of the south wing. If so, his purpose was never achieved.

Directly in the rear of the new administration building are the new greenhouses, completed and ready for use about the same time as the pseudo-stable. These are spacious and modern, and will no doubt be the pride and joy of the head-gardener. The old greenhouses and their adjacent brick building just north of the mansion will be removed sometime in the future. It indeed seems too bad that David H. Rhodes, head-gardener at Arlington for over fifty years, did not live to see these particular improvements. He died at Clarendon, Virginia, just a few weeks ago, after a long illness that necessarily denied him the privilege of continuing his beloved labors among the flowers and shrubbery of the National Cemetery. The great East Indian evergreen tree, a deodar, in the rear of the mansion adjacent to the small conservatory in the south wing, that has been so much admired by thousands of people, was planted by Mr. Rhodes, as a sapling, in 1874.

Many things yet remain to be done in this restoration work, both inside and around the mansion. For instance, it is intended ultimately to restore the old flower gardens that extended immediately south of the house. The Quartermaster General intends, of course, to restore this garden as nearly as may be done without disturbing any of the graves. Then, there was a vegetable, or kitchen, garden lying to the north of the house, the site at present occupied by the old greenhouses and the twostory brick building.

For the Quartermaster General’s Office, General Bash has just issued (May 1, 1932) a very interesting and attractive catalogue entitled, “Arlington House and Its Associations.” In addition to a brief historical sketch and much information with reference to the restoration, this brochure lists the many beautiful and valuable articles, furniture, portraits and equipment, donated and loaned by many generous persons in all walks of life and from all parts of the country. It contains some very worthy pencil sketches, as well as several attractive photographs. Inasmuch as this catalogue is labeled by the Quartermaster General’s Office as the first edition, it is doubtless intended to issue additional ones from time to time, as the restoration progresses and the gifts increase throughtout the ensuing years. Copies of the booklet have been sent to the Virginia Historical Society, the Society for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, and will doubtless be presented to various historical societies, public libraries and institutions throughout the country, upon request made to the Quartermaster General.

For all the splendid progress that has been made in restoring Arlington House to some semblance of its former grandeur as one of the finest homes of the old South, a great deal of credit is due to the Quartermaster General’s Office, to General Bash, and particularly to Colonel Charles G. Mortimer, the officer in immediate charge of the program. With infinite pains and enthusiasm Colonel Mortimer has worked unceasingly to achieve the results we admire today. It is all highly commendable, and particularly since Congress laid the task in the hands of our army officers, who did not profess any proficiency by way of previous experience in restoration work of this kind.