George Washington Parke Custis
Aged: 76.5 years
Arlington House was built by George Washington Parke Custis. His father, John Parke Custis, George Washington's step son bought the property in 1778 for 11 pounds per acre, a price that Washington felt was too high. For once he was wrong. Custis, though, died in 1781 of a fever contracted at the Battle of Yorktown, and the 1,100 acres were inherited by his son, George Washington Parke Custis. Young Washington, as he was called, was brought up at Mount Vernon by an adoring grandmother and a loving but disapproving step-grandfather who felt that Custis was---a wonderful word---"inert' and eventually gave up trying to run the young man's life, finding his attempts "as idle as the endeavors to stop a rivulet that is constantly running." Custis turned out to be a relatively interesting and much-beloved man. One of the more endearing stories about him is that every year he would ride the Yule log into the house in his nightcap, and he spent a good part of his life enshrining the memory of his step-grandfather, both at Arlington and in the hearts of his countrymen. He was also a famous orator, a relatively accomplished painter and a playwright; He wrote one play in a nine-hour burst of creativity, and his works--the most famous of which was _Pocahontas_ (1830)--were performed in New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia as well as Washington. In any case, it was Custis who built Arlington House, named after the ancestral Custis estate in Northampton County, VA, beginning in 1802 with the north wing. The south wing was added in 1804, and the central section was completed in 1818. (An interesting aside: Roger G. Kennedy, in his fascinating book _Architecture, Men, Women and Money_ [Random House], points out that Custis built his house as a memorial to Washington and made sure that it could be seen from almost every part of the capital. He also tells us that he built it in the Greek Revival style to spite his enemy, Thomas Jefferson, who intensely disliked Greek architecture.) (Source: _Virginia: A History and Guide_ by Tim Mulligan, Random House, pp. 18-19).