The National Park Service (NPS) today reopened Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, following a complete rehabilitation of the site and transformation of the visitor experience. New exhibits and research allow the NPS to interpret the history of the Custis and Lee families alongside that of the more than 100 enslaved people who labored on the plantation. Together, their stories reveal a more complete picture of life at Arlington House and of the people and events that changed our nation.
The rehabilitation, which began in 2018, was made possible through a $12.35 million donation by philanthropist David M. Rubenstein to the National Park Foundation.
“Our goal is to create a place of dialogue and learning. We invite visitors to be curious, to connect with the stories, and to be open to hard questions. Park rangers and volunteers will share inclusive stories about the many people and events connected to Arlington House,” Charles Cuvelier, George Washington Memorial Parkway superintendent, said. “David Rubenstein’s generous donation improved every aspect of the site, and the National Park Service is grateful for his continued support.”
A visit today reveals a layered history that has often been untold—the experience of the enslaved people of Arlington House. This historic place tells America’s story from its founding through the Civil War, including the impacts of slavery on the lives of these families, and the site’s conversion to a national cemetery. Today, it stands as a place of dialogue and reflection to create a deeper understanding of the American experience. Through this project, the NPS connected with descendants of the Lee, Syphax, Parks, Gray, Branham and Burke families. Several descendants helped the NPS tell a more complete history of Arlington House.
“The National Park Service has done a spectacular job refurbishing Arlington House and telling the stories of the enslaved people who built the plantation house and worked there,” David M. Rubenstein, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of The Carlyle Group, said. “I hope many people get to visit and believe that Arlington House’s rich and complicated history will add to the necessary and important discussion in our country about racial justice.”
NPS curators worked to conserve or restore more than 1,000 historic objects and acquired 1,300 antiques or reproductions, including several artifacts associated with African American history which will be displayed for the first time.
The project stabilized the foundation of Arlington House, restored exterior finishes and hardware, recoated decorative masonry faux-marble finishes, completed interior painting, repaired plaster, rehabilitated windows and doors, and reset the brick portico floor. The work also included new or improved electrical, lighting, security, climate management and fire suppression systems. The historic grounds and kitchen gardens were realigned to allow for accessibility.
“The reopening of Arlington House provides a place for hard and important conversations that illuminate more perspectives, including the experiences of enslaved people and their descendants,” Will Shafroth, National Park Foundation President and CEO, said. “David Rubenstein’s generous gift to the National Park Foundation helped restore the plantation house and enslaved people’s living quarters and created new educational exhibits, inspiring people to reflect on the realities of our past, consider how it informs where we are today, and work together to create a more just and equitable future.”
Before the rehabilitation, 650,000 people visited Arlington House each year, making it the most visited historic house museum in the national park system. Arlington National Cemetery was built around Arlington House on the grounds of the historic 1,100-acre Arlington plantation.
How to visit: Arlington House is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. To enter the plantation house, visitors need to obtain a timed-ticket through recreation.gov. No tickets are required to visit the museum, north and south slave quarters, grounds and gardens.
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