ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — 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 after a $12.3 million gift announced Thursday.
David Rubenstein, a billionaire history buff and co-founder of The Carlyle Group, said he is giving the National Park Foundation the funds needed for a full restoration of the historic house, grounds and slave quarters as they appeared in 1860, as well as an overhaul of its museum exhibits. Rubenstein said the site crowns the most sacred land in the country, Arlington National Cemetery, but needed major repairs.
“The goal is to remind people of American history,” Rubenstein said, and such a site “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. Lee later married into the family, and it became his plantation estate. Union troops captured the site during the Civil War and made it their military headquarters to defend Washington from Virginia.
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 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. The roof leaks inside, and the climate control system is so unstable some artwork can’t be displayed. Nearby museum exhibits haven’t been updated in 30 years.
Still, the home is the most visited historic house in the national park system. The house has about 650,000 visitors each year, and between 1 and 2 million people visit the grounds, park officials said.
Restoration planning has already begun, and much of the work will be completed in late 2015 through 2016. Project Manager Brandon Bies said the work may require the house to close for a short time during the low period of visitation in the late fall and winter, but other parts of the site will remain open.
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