$12.3M Gift to Help Restore Robert E. Lee's Home
A historic plantation originally built as a monument to George Washington overlooking the nation's capital, a site that later was home to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and 63 slaves, will be restored to its historical appearance using a $12.3 million gift from a wealthy history buff.
David Rubenstein, a billionaire history buff and co-founder of The Carlyle Group, said Thursday he is giving the National Park Foundation the funds needed for a full restoration of the historic house, grounds and slave quarters to show visitors how they appeared in 1860, as well as an overhaul of the site's museum exhibits. Rubenstein said the site crowns the most sacred land in the country, Arlington National Cemetery, but needed major repairs.
Rubenstein also has given multimillion dollar gifts in recent years to restore the Washington Monument, the first president's Mount Vernon estate and Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello, including a recreation of its historic slave quarters.
"The goal is to remind people of American history," Rubenstein said. "I think when you're restoring history, you should remind people of the good and the bad."
Arlington House, as it is known, was built between 1802 and 1818 by Washington's step grandson, George Washington Parke Custis and his slaves on a hilltop overlooking the new capital city and the Potomac River. Lee later married into the family, and it became his family's plantation estate.
After Lee resigned from the Union army and joined the Confederacy, Union troops captured the estate during the Civil War and made it their military headquarters to defend Washington from Virginia. Graffiti from Civil War soldiers is still visible in the mansion's attic.
After the war, the area became a community for emancipated slaves, and Union troops began burying their war dead on the grounds, in part to prevent Lee from returning. It eventually became Arlington National Cemetery, the burial site for many soldiers as well as President John F. Kennedy.
The 200-year-old house and grounds symbolize the nation's reconciliation after the Civil War, said National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, but it is in poor condition.