Rehabilitating Arlington

  • Arts & Culture
  • 2014

When Robert E. Lee sided with his state instead of his nation and took command of the Confederate army, the U.S. seized his family estate located on a hill overlooking the nation’s capital from the south bank of the Potomac. Lee’s home—Arlington House, which was built as a tribute to his relative George Washington and modeled on the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens—was turned into a military headquarters. The grounds became the residence of several thousand liberated slaves, and then, in the third year of the war, a cemetery for men killed in the fight to preserve the Union.

In 1925, Arlington House was designated a memorial to Robert E. Lee. By 2014 it was a tattered property operated by the National Park Service. To improve the experience for the 650,000 people who visit each year, Washington-area philanthropist David Rubenstein pledged $12.4 million to the National Park Foundation for restoration of the house and museum, the landscape, and the historic slave quarters.

Rubenstein has a passion for U.S. history and has focused his philanthropy in the national capital region. He said at the announcement of his gift that “the goal is to remind people of American history…. People know so little about our history…. That’s really why I try to do this.”