Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

Early Season Wildflower Blooms

They are predicting a 70 to 90 percent chance of rain every day for the coming week.  And although it was slightly overcast yesterday, the weather was cool and dry.  So I decided to go for a late afternoon weekend bike ride to the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which is located approximately 25 miles due south of D.C., at 13950 Dawson Beach Road (MAP), where the Occoquan River meets the Potomac River in Prince William County, Virginia .

Having been there before, it occurred to me as I was initially riding through the refuge that there was very little color compared to the last time I was there.  This is evidenced by the above photo.  The green has returned with the Spring.  But most of the other colors have yet to follow because many of the larger blooming plants do not peak until later in the summer.  But as I continued riding I looked more closely and was intermittently able to find a variety of color in small flowers and leaves along the way.

The small size of the blooms gave me the chance to practice some selective focus photography. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts as shown in the photos below, there is no type of photography can capture their true beauty.  For that I recommend you get out there and see it for yourself.

The whole experience reminded me of how there is always beauty all around you.  It’s just that sometimes it’s not obvious.  Sometimes you have to look for it to find it.

          

         

         

         

         

         

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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Beirut Barracks Memorial

It was great early-spring weather for a bike ride today.  There was no longer any sign of the recent cold, rainy conditions that took away the cherry blossoms.  Instead, the skies were clear.  There was a slight breeze.  And the temperature was just warm enough to hint of summer’s approach.  So on this lunchtime bike ride I rode over to Arlington National Cemetery (MAP), and went for a long walk on the grounds.  And it was during this walk that I visited the Beirut Barracks Memorial.

The Beirut Barracks Memorial honors the 241 American servicemen, comprised of 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers, who were killed in the October 23, 1983 terrorist bombing of the Marines barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. The bombing occurred during the Lebanese Civil War, when two truck bombs carrying what the FBI called the largest non-nuclear bomb in history, detonated by suicide bombers affiliated with a splinter group of the Iranian-and Syrian-supported Hezbollah organization, struck separate buildings housing United States and French military members of the Multinational Peacekeeping Force in Lebanon killing the U.S. servicemen, as well as 58 French peacekeepers, six civilians, and the two suicide attackers.

The memorial consists of a Lebanese cedar tree and a stone marker which reads, “‘Let Peace Take Root’  This cedar of Lebanon tree grows on living memory of the Americans killed in the Beirut terrorist attach and all victims of terrorism throughout the world.  Dedicated during the first memorial ceremony for these victims.  Given by: No Great Love. October 23, 1984.  A Time of Remembrance.”  And it is located in the green expanse of Arlington National’s Section 59, near the final resting place of some of the first Americans to shed blood in the fight against Middle East terrorism.  Twenty-one service members who lost their lives in the Beirut Barracks Bombing are also buried in Section 59 near the memorial.

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Capital Bikeshare Program

Over the past few years I’ve found out first hand that biking around D.C. is a great way to get to know the city and explore all that it has to offer.  It’s also a fun way to exercise and stay healthy.  I go for a ride everyday.  And I have a convenient and secure place to store my bikes.  So I chose to own my bikes.  But another alternative to owning a bike, especially if you’re only an occasional rider or don’t have anywhere to keep one, is to rent a bike.

Renting a bike in D.C. has been something that has been possible for quite a long time.  Dating back to the early 1940’s, bike rentals were available through bike shops and gas stations at different independent locations in the city.  But today the Capital Bikeshare Program provides a network of stations that makes renting a bike easy, convenient and affordable.

Capital Bikeshare, which first began in 2010, makes over 3,500 bicycles available for rent at over 400 stations across D.C., Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia, and Montgomery County, Maryland.  Whether it’s for a short trip, a commute to work, to get to the Metro, running errands, going shopping, visiting friends and family, or for any other reason, you can simply rent a bike at any nearby station.  And then when you’re done, you can return it to the same station where you started, or to any other station near your destination.

You can join Capital Bikeshare online or at one of their convenient a commuter store locations.  Membership options include a day, 3 days, a month, a year or try their new Day Key option.  This gives you access to their fleet of bikes 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The first 30 minutes of each trip are free. Each additional 30 minutes incurs an additional fee.

The city’s increasing amount of bike lanes and biking infrastructure combined with the convenient availability of bikes makes it easier than ever to get out there and explore our nation’s capital.

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Left – A bicycle rental shop on 22nd Street, near Virginia Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C., on a Sunday. (Library of Congress Control Number fsa2000056770/PP.  Contributor:  Marjory Collins.  Circa June/July 1942.)
Right – Bicycles for Rent, Washington, D.C. (Library of Congress Control Number fsa1998024089/PP.  Contributor:  Martha McMillan Roberts. Circa 1941.)
Center – Washington, D.C. Renting bicycles at a gas station on East Potomac Park. Notice the “no gas” sign on the nearest gasoline pump. (Library of Congress Control Number fsa2000056780/PP.  Contributor:  Marjory Collins. Circa June/July 1942.)

Note:  Historic photos obtained from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division and used with the permission of the U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information/Office of Emergency Management/Resettlement Administration.

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New School Baptist Church

I almost always go for an extended bike ride on long holiday weekends.  And although this weekend was not a long one, when it’s February and the temperature is in the upper 70’s here in the D.C. area it’s impossible to stay inside.  So I took one of my recumbent bikes and went for a long, leisurely ride this weekend.  And during the ride I happened upon the historic site of the New School Baptist Church, which is located along The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail at 15557 Cardinal Drive (MAP) in Dale City, Prince William County, Virginia.

According to the historic marker it was the site where slaves from plantations in the area “gathered between 1861 and 1865.  They built a brush arbor church, worshipped God and became a faithful congregation.  On December 5, 1881, Reverend John L. Bell and four other church leaders purchased one acre of this land for eleven dollars and called themselves the New School Baptist church.  George W. Thomas helped erect a wooden, steepled church which was renamed Neabsco Baptist Church.  The building was used also to educate children of former slaves and free persons of color.  This church has undergone two renovations.  Hand-hewn timbers below the flooring of the present church are silent reminders of the toll of many persons who held a dream during troubled times.”

While I was there I also ventured behind the church where the church’s historic cemetery is located.  There are headstones there that are so old that the names and dates are worn away.  The cemetery also proudly has the grave of a World War I veteran, Owen Thomas, whose family members still attend the church.

Neabsco Baptist Church has undergone many changes throughout its history and is about to undergo another major change.  On six acres of recently-purchased land adjacent to the existing church building they are curretly building a new and much larger sanctuary to accommodate its growing and dynamic congregation.  Even with its long history it’s pastor, Pastor Joshua Speights, Jr., feels some of the best days for the church are still ahead.  So it appears that the 156 year-old church will continue to make history well into the future.

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Alexandria Market Square and City Hall

On days when I want to go on a longer than usual lunchtime bike ride, one of my favorite destinations is Old Town Alexandria.  And that is where I rode to today.  And it was during this ride I visited the Alexandria Market Square and City Hall, located at 301 King Street (MAP).

The site of the Alexandria Market Square and City Hall originally began as a market beginning in 1749.  Then in 1752, lottery proceeds funded the building of a town hall and courthouse on the site. George Washington served as a justice in this court.  Later, in 1817, a new three-story brick building was constructed, including a town clock tower designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe.  But an extensive fire in May of 1871 gutted the building.  Given the importance of the building, the townspeople raised enough money to pay for an exact replica of the former building.  And that building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in March of 1984, is still standing today.

The current Second Empire-style building was designed by Adolph Cluss, was a German-born American immigrant who became one of the most important architects in the D.C. area, in the late 19th century.  He was nicknamed the “Red Architect” based on red brick being his favorite building material, and his early communist sympathies, though later in life he became a confirmed Republican.  Cluss is responsible for designing scores of major public buildings in the D.C. area, including at least eleven schools, as well as markets, government buildings, museums, residences and churches.  His designs include the Franklin School and the Sumner School, as well as other notable public buildings in the capital, including the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Building, Calvary Baptist Church, and two of the city’s major food markets, Center Market and Eastern Market.

The original city hall was something of a complex, containing the court facility, both the principal police and fire stations of Alexandria.  The Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge also had its headquarters located in the building until 1945, when it moved out of City Hall and into the new George Washington Masonic National Memorial on nearby King Street.  Today the City Hall building houses many of the Alexandria government offices, including the City Council Chambers on the second floor.

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Wilkes Street Tunnel

During all of my lunchtime bike rides over the past several years I have been able to enjoy hundreds of aspects of the city and surrounding area.  From monuments and memorials to churches and cemeteries, there is always something interesting to discover and learn about.  But on this ride I happened upon something that up until this point I had not seen before.  As I was riding in Old Town Alexandria I happened upon an old underground tunnel.

Located near the eastern end of Wilkes Street (MAP), with an entrance to the west of Windmill Hill and Shipyard Parks, it turns out that it is the Wilkes Street Tunnel, which originally was a railroad tunnel used by Union troops during the Civil War to ship supplies from Alexandria to Richmond and points south.  And I didn’t even have to wait until after my ride to learn about it because there is a plaque on the wall at the western end of the tunnel that provides its history.

The plaque reads, ” The Wilkes Street Tunnel was part of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, founded in 1848 to promote trade with western Virginia. The Orange and Alexandria inaugurated its track in Alexandria on May 7, 1851 with a run to the north end of Union Street to the Wilkes Street Tunnel. Thus, the tunnel linked the railroad to warehouses and wharves along the waterfront. Located nearby, the Smith and Perkins foundry manufactured locomotives for the Orange and Alexandria and other railroads.

Wilkes Street Tunnel is typical of cut-and-cover tunnel construction. Presumably, the tunnel was cut through the bluff overlooking the Potomac River and covered to continue the streets above. After the sides were built up with stone, the arch probably was constructed over wood falsework from both sides using a centering technique to form the brick barrel vault. The tunnel was deepened after World War I to accommodate higher boxcars.

The Orange and Alexandria line was one of the many Alexandria railroads taken over by Union forces at the onset of the Civil War. While this northerly section of the railroad was incorporated into the U.S. Military Railroads, the length of track south of the Rappahannock River remained in Confederate hands.

Both sections played an major role in the strategies of North and South, as well as a decisive element in the Confederate victory at the Second Battle of Manassas or Bull Run. The Wilkes Street Tunnel gave Union Army access to the wharves for shipping military supplies on car ferries south of Aquia Creek, terminus of the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad.

Shortly after the Civil War, the old Orange & Alexandria line was incorporated into the Washington City, Virginia Midland & Great Southern Railway controlled by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Wilkes Street Tunnel played a part in the rivalry between the Baltimore & Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroads for supremacy in the north-south trade across the Potomac River. The Pennsylvania Railroad acquired Congressional authorization for exclusive use of Long Bridge (14th Street). To maintain a competitive position, Baltimore & Ohio offered trans-Potomac service by way of carfloats linking Wilkes Street with Shepherd’s Ferry on the Maryland shore until about 1906.

The Wilkes Street track continued in operation until 1975 when declining industrial activity along the waterfront no longer warranted rail service. The tunnel is significant today as Alexandria’s only 19th century transportation site surviving intact.”

The interior of the tunnel consists of dry-laid grey sandstone vaulted walls.  Its dimensions are approximately 170 feet long with exterior stone and brick surfaces, and an interior consisting of grey sandstone masonry, with a 15-foot deck and an arch with a vertical clearance of 17 feet.  The city completed a structural refurbishment of the tunnel in March of 2008, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on March 11th.  Today the tunnel is open to pedestrians and bike riders like me.

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Funerals at Arlington National Cemetery

One of my favorite destinations during my lunchtime bike rides is Arlington National Cemetery, which is located in Arlington County, Virginia (MAP), directly across the Potomac River from D.C. via the Arlington Memorial Bridge.  I choose to ride there fairly frequently because there is so much to see and take in there, and there are always funerals, ceremonies or other events going on.  On this ride, I was privileged to witness an honors funeral, and it was a emotional and meaningful ceremony.

The primary mission of Arlington National Cemetery is to function as the nation’s premier military cemetery and shrine honoring United States soldiers, marines, sailors or airmen who died in battle, or is a veteran, or a prominent military figure or a U.S. President.  Families come from all over the country to bury their loved ones at Arlington.  And in addition to the fact that it is some of our nation’s most hallowed ground, one of the reasons they come to Arlington is because of the rich history of military honors that makes the services there so special.

The most common service, referred to as standard military honors, is available to any enlisted service member or officer. The standard honors consist of a six-man honorary detail to serve as pallbearers, a rifle party consisting of an odd number of service members of between 3 and 7 members depending on the rank of the deceased, and a bugler to play taps, as well as a chaplain.  The casket is transported via a horse-drawn limbers and caissons, or a hearse.  The pallbearers carry the flag draped casket to the grave and hold the flag over the casket while the chaplain speaks.  Following the committal service the firing party is called to attention and fires a three-volley salute.  Fighter jets from the Air Force may also perform an aerial flyover known as the missing man formation.  The lone bugler then plays taps, at a distance 30 to 50 yards from the grave site while a “Final Salute” is given.  This is followed by the pallbearers folding the flag and presenting it to the deceased’s next of kin.

Arlington National is the only military cemetery in the United States that offers on a regular basis a full military honors funeral. This type of funeral is available at the family’s request to officers and warrant officers, and may consist of a procession to the gravesite that may include a marching band, a marching escort of troops, and a four-man color guard.  Included in this type of service may also be a caparisoned horse, without a rider, with boots reversed in the stirrups. The horse follows the caisson carrying the casket.  The chaplain joins the procession as well, in front of the limbers and caissons, and behind the escort, band, and color guard. Once at the gravesite, the service is identical to the standard honors service described above, with the exception that the band plays while the casket is taken to the grave and while the flag is being folded, the entire element that makes up the full honors ceremony remains throughout the service.

Arlington National Cemetery currently serves as the final resting place for more than 400,000 active duty service members, veterans and their families.  And that number continues to grow.  The cemetery remains active with funeral services Monday through Saturday, conducting between 27 and 30 services each week day and between 6 and 8 services on Saturdays.  Funeral services are held from Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays, between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.  Saturday services are held from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. for placements and services for cremated remains that do not require military honors or military chaplain support.  Services are not scheduled on Saturdays that precede a Federal holiday on Monday.

So if you are privileged enough to be able to visit Arlington National Cemetery, keep in mind that it continues to be an active military cemetery, and display the proper respect that is due.  And if there is an opportunity to view an honors funeral while you are there, the experience is very much worth it.

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[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]
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The Historic Town of Occoquan

With traffic and transit changes anticipated in D.C. because of the long Columbus Day holiday weekend, for this bike ride I chose to go outside of the city.  For this excursion I chose the historic town of Occoquan, located approximately 23 miles south of D.C. in Prince William County, Virginia (MAP).  It is situated on the south bank at the fall line of the Occoquan River, and directly across the river from the Occoquan Regional Park and the Lorton Correctional Facility Beehive Brick Kiln.  With access available via road, river and the East Coast Greenway, it is accessible by car, boat, foot traffic, and by bike.

The town derives its name from an Algonquian Doeg Indian word, meaning “at the end of the water”.  And throughout its existence the river has been its lifeblood.  It was its location on the water which attracted and then sustained its original occupants, indigenous people who relied upon the river for fish and sustenance.  Similarly, for the British and subsequently American colonists who came after them, the river provided an ideal site to for transportation and trade.   A tobacco warehouse was built as early as 1736, and an industrial complex began in 1750.  Within the next several decades Occoquan had iron-manufacturing, a timber trade, quarrying, river-ice, shipbuilding, a bake house, saw mills, warehouses, and Merchant’s Mill, the first automated grist mill in the country.  It operated for 175 years until destroyed by fire.  Later, during the Civil War, the Occoquan Post Office passed letters and packages between North and South.  But eventually river silting and the shift in traffic to railroads reduced ship traffic to Occoquan and ended its days as a port.

Reflecting the rich history of Occoquan, a number of structures in town, including a number in the downtown commercial area, are part of the Occoquan Historic District which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  One of the more prominent examples of these structures is Rockledge, the former house of the town’s founder, which sits on an overlook above the town.

But the town has not only survived.  It has thrived.  Today, it is a restored artists’ community, with an eclectic collection of over one hundred specialty shops offering everything from antiques, arts, crafts, fashions, to unique gifts.  The town also offers a public park complete with a gazebo, a town boat dock, a museum, guided ghost walks, and a full array of dining choices, from ice cream and snack stands to a five star restaurant.  And everything is within walking distance, with much of it adjacent to the river.

It was still dark when I arrived this morning, but I found a place named Mom’s Apple Pie Bakery that was already open.  So I indulged in a piece of Shenandoah Peach Pie, which I took down to the waterfront and enjoyed for breakfast as the sun was coming up.  I also purchased a jar of locally-made fresh pumpkin butter to take home.   The bakery, the riverfront, and the entire town were all fun to explore, and a great way to begin Columbus Day, named after a great explorer.

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In addition to the individual graves of those buried in Arlington National Cemetery, there are also a number of monuments and memorials.  The most well-known of which is the iconic Tomb of the Unknowns. But there are also dozens of other monuments and memorials to a variety of people, groups and events interspersed throughout the cemetery’s 624 acres. And on this lunchtime bike ride, I sought out and found the memorial to the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

The Space Shuttle Columbia was the first orbiter in NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet.  It launched for the first flight of the Space Shuttle Program on April 12, 1981, and provided over 22 years of service, successfully completing 27 missions before tragedy struck on February 1, 2003.

Near the end of its 28th mission, as it was travelling at a rate of approximately 8,000 miles per hour, the Columbia disintegrated as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere.  This created a debris field which encompassed hundreds of miles across Northeast Texas and into Louisiana.  The orbitor’s disintegration resulted in the deaths of all seven crew members aboard, whose remains were found along with the the nose cap in Sabine County, Texas.  The crew members killed on its final mission were: Rick Husband, the Commander; William C. McCool, the Pilot; Michael P. Anderson, Payload Commander/Mission Specialist 3; David M. Brown, Mission Specialist 1; Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist 2; Laurel Clark, Mission Specialist 4; and Ilan Ramon, Payload Specialist 1.   Nearly 84,000 pieces of debris from the orbitor were also found.  They are stored in the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center.

Less than two months after the disaster, President George W. Bush signed into law the “Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2003”. The “Columbia Orbiter Memorial Act” is contained in that supplemental appropriations act, which is now known as Public Law Number 108-11.  The Law authorized the Secretary of the Army, in consultation with NASA, to place the memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, accompanied by over 400 family members, former astronauts, and friends dedicated the memorial on February 2, 2004.

I found the memorial by using a new app I recently downloaded to my phone.  It is called ANC Explorer, and it’s a free app available for download for both iPhone and Android smartphones.  ANC Explorer can also be launched using a traditional computer, and accessed at the cemetery using the free WiFi available at the Welcome Center and Administration Building.  The app is also available for public use on computer kiosks at the cemetery.

ANC Ecxplorer allows users to locate gravesites and other points of interest throughout the cemetery by providing step-by-step directions to these locations.  The app also allows users to view and save front-and-back photos of a marker or monument.  Further, the app provides emergency and event notifications, self-guided tours, and the ability to share your experiences and photos on popular social media sites. Users can also save favorite places in the new “My Content” feature to create their own custom walking tours.

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Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial

Arlington House, also known as the Robert E. Lee Memorial, and formerly named the Custis-Lee Mansion, is a 19th-century Greek revival style mansion located atop a rolling hill in what is now Arlington National Cemetery (MAP), in Arlington County, Virginia.  And on this lunchtime bike ride I ventured over the Arlington Memorial Bridge to Virginia to see and find out more about the historic house.

The mansion, overlooking the national capital city landscape across the Potomac River, has a long and storied past.  Construction began in 1802, but was not actually completed until 1818. It was owned by his adopted grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, son of John Parke Custis who himself was a child of Martha Washington by her first marriage, and a ward of President Washington.  It was originally intended as a living memorial to President George Washington. To design the estate Custis hired George Hadfield, an English architect who came to D.C. in 1785 to help construct the U.S. Capitol Building.

Custis began living in the house in 1802, in the north wing, which was the first part completed. Two years later he married Mary Lee Fitzhugh, and she moved in with him. Construction of the house continued around them for the first sixteen years of their marriage, and they lived in Arlington House for the rest of their lives .  They were buried together on the property after their deaths in 1857 and 1853, respectively.

Their only child, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, took ownership of the property upon her father’s death. She moved in and lived there with her childhood friend and distant cousin, who she had married years earlier. His name was Robert E. Lee. They would have seven children, six of whom were born at the estate.

Contrary to popular belief, Lee never actually owned the Arlington estate.  However, as Mary’s husband he did serve as custodian of the property, which by that time had fallen into disrepair. Although it would take several years, Lee returned the property and its holdings to good order by 1859. But that would only last a couple of years. It would not be long until Lee would leave Arlington Mansion, never to return again.

On May 24, 1861, just hours after the Commonwealth of Virginia ratified an ordinance of secession, thus joining the Confederate States of America, over 3,500 U.S. Army soldiers, commanded by General Irvin McDowell, streamed across the Potomac River into northern Virginia and captured the Arlington estate.  It would soon be seized by the U.S. government when Mrs. Lee failed to pay, in person, taxes levied against the estate.  It was then offered for public sale, at which time a tax commissioner purchased the property for “government use, for war, military, charitable and educational purposes.”

It wasn’t until 1864, when the increasing number of battle fatalities was outpacing the burial capacity of D.C. cemeteries, that 200 acres of Arlington plantation were set aside as a cemetery. Upon the authority of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, General Montgomery C. Meigs, Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army, appropriated the grounds for use as a military cemetery.  Meigs believed Lee committed treason in deciding to fight against the Union, and denying Lee use of the mansion after the war was politically advantageous.  So he decided that a large number of burials should occur close to Arlington House to render it unlivable should the Lee family ever attempt to return.  And he was successful.  The mansion never again served as the Lee family’s, or anyone else’s, home.

Throughout the war, the Arlington estate also provided assistance to the thousands of African-Americans slaves fleeing the South.  The U.S. government even dedicated a planned community for freed slaves on the southern portion of the property, which was named Freedman’s Village.  The government granted land to more than 1,100 freed slaves, where they farmed and lived until the turn of the 20th century.

Neither Robert E. Lee, nor his wife ever attempted to recover control of Arlington House. However, after Lee’s death in 1870, his son, George Washington Custis Lee, brought an action for ejectment in the Circuit Court of Alexandria (today Arlington County).  Custis Lee, as eldest son of the Lees, claimed the land was illegally confiscated and that, according to his grandfather’s will, he was the legal owner.  In December 1882, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, returned the property to Custis Lee, stating that confiscation of the property lacked due process. The following year Congress purchased the property back from Lee.

In 1955, Congress enacted Public Law 84-107, a joint resolution that designated the manor as the “Custis-Lee Mansion”, and as a permanent memorial to Robert E. Lee. The resolution directed the United States Secretary of the Interior to erect on the premises a memorial plaque and to correct governmental records to bring them into compliance with the designation, “thus ensuring that the correct interpretation of its history would be applied”.  Gradually the house was furnished and interpreted to the period of Robert E. Lee as specified in the legislation.  In 1972, Congress enacted Public Law 92-333, an Act that amended the previous law to designate the manor as “Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial”.  It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in October of 1966, and is currently administered by the National Park Service.

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The view from the front porch of Arlington House