Arlington House, the former Custis family estate that now presides over Arlington National Cemetery.
Arlington House, built by George Washington Parke Custis (step-grandson and adoptive son of George Washington) in 1802, might have suffered the same fate had the Union Army not seized the property during the Civil War. Mary Anna Custis Lee (wife of Robert E. Lee), who lived in the house with her children at the start of the war, had inherited the estate upon her father’s death. But she also inherited his debt.
“[George Washington Parke Custis] was relatively wealthy and certainly part of the 1 percent, but he was at the bottom end,” Penrod explains. “His wealth shows at Arlington, but it also hides that fact that he didn’t have a lot of money. He had a lot of expenses. By the time Custis died, he owed the equivalent of $1 million today.”