In 1778, John Parke Custis purchased most of the 1,100 acres comprising this estate from the Alexander family. John's son, George Washington Parke Custis, came in 1802 and completed the house in 1818. He named it "Arlington" after the old Custis estate on Virginia's eastern shore.
The estate prospered throughout most of Custis' lifetime, but a series of events beginning after his death radically altered the character of Arlington:
1857 — Ownership is bequeathed to Mrs. Robert E. Lee, sole surviving child of George Custis.
1861 — The Lees leave Arlington forever, and Union troops occupy the estate throughout the War.
1864 — Two hundred acres surrounding the house are set aside as a cemetery for Civil War dead.
1882 — U.S. Supreme Court returns the estate to Mrs. Robert E. Lee's son G.W. Custis Lee. With thousands of graves surrounding the house, Lee cannot make his home here, and sells Arlington the the government for $150,000.