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Lewis McKenzie (1810-1895): A Civic Figure of Remarkable Influence

Early Life and Business Success

Lewis McKenzie, born on October 7, 1810, left an indelible mark on the history of Alexandria, Virginia, through his multifaceted contributions as a businessman, politician, and key player in forming West Virginia. This blog delves into the life and legacy of this distinguished civic figure who helped shape the course of his time.

Image of Lewis McKenzie during his tenure as President of the Alexandria, Loudoun, and Hampshire Railroad (AL&H). Photograph from the Brady-Handy Collection, courtesy of the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division (Digital ID: cwpbh.00291).

A Prosperous Merchant in Alexandria

Lewis McKenzie began his journey to prominence as a successful trader in Alexandria. His business acumen and financial success laid the foundation for his future endeavors. His influence extended beyond commerce, as he would soon become a pivotal figure in Alexandria’s political landscape.

Railway Entrepreneurship: Alexandria, Loudoun, and Hampshire Railroad

In 1853, Lewis McKenzie took on a monumental role as the President of the Alexandria, Loudoun, and Hampshire Railroad, known today as the W&OD biking/hiking trail. This venture began his significant impact on transportation and regional development.

Competing with the Baltimore & Ohio Line

The Alexandria, Loudoun, and Hampshire Railroad was conceived as a direct competitor to the Baltimore & Ohio line. It played a crucial role in collecting Northern Virginia products and transporting them to the port of Alexandria. Construction commenced in 1855, and by May 1860, the line reached Leesburg. Unfortunately, the Civil War disrupted further progress.

Union Occupation and Post-War Resurgence

As the Civil War began, Union forces captured the railroad, including the station at Fairfax and Princess Street, when they seized Alexandria on May 24, 1861. In the wake of this takeover, McKenzie was elected as the Unionist mayor, serving from 1861 to 1863. Once the war ended, McKenzie managed to regain control of the railroad, showcasing his resilience and determination.

Political Legacy: Mayor, Congressman, and More

Lewis McKenzie’s involvement in politics extended well beyond his mayoral tenure. He was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates four times, showcasing the trust placed in his leadership. Additionally, he was elected as the 7th Congressional representative to the US Congress three times, though he only served twice.

The Formation of West Virginia

One of his most remarkable achievements was establishing the Reformed Government of Virginia, a pivotal step that eventually led to the creation of West Virginia. McKenzie’s contributions were crucial in shaping the region’s political landscape during a tumultuous period in American history.

Congressman and Orphans Court Judge

McKenzie’s political career included three elections to the U.S. Congress, although he served only twice. Additionally, he took on the role of a judge in the Orphan’s Court, leaving a lasting impact on the legal system in the region.

Enduring Influence and Final Years

Lewis McKenzie’s residence at 207 Prince Street, a historic house built between 1749 and 1753, held the distinction of having the first bathtub in Alexandria. His involvement in the Meeting House further solidified his place in the community, with a silver plaque bearing his name on one of the pews.

A polished silver name plaque gleams in the dim light of the Presbyterian Meeting House. It bears the name ‘Lewis McKenzie’. Like many others in the hall, this pew was rented by its regular occupants. The tradition of pew renting was expected, and those who either couldn’t afford it or chose not to would find themselves standing on the balcony. They would stand for the entirety of the services, which could stretch on for several hours, their dedication unwavering despite the discomfort.

Post-War Public Service

In the post-war years, McKenzie’s Unionist stance, which was not without controversy, did not deter him from serving in local and state governments. He was appointed postmaster in 1878 and returned to City Council in 1887, where he served until 1891.

A Legacy Remembered

Lewis McKenzie passed away in 1895 and is resting at the Presbyterian Cemetery. His enduring legacy as a civic figure of remarkable influence continues to be remembered and celebrated in the annals of Alexandria’s history. His contributions to business, transportation, and politics left an indelible mark on the region and helped shape events during a pivotal period in American history.

LEWIS McKENZIE
born
Oct. 15, 1810
died
June 28, 1895.
Plot 44:153

Sources of Information

Brockett, F. L., & Rock, G. W. (1883). A Concise History of the City of Alexandria, VA, from 1669 to 1883 with a Directory of Reliable Business Houses in the City. Gazette Book and Job Office.

McGroarty, W. B. (1940). The Old Presbyterian Meeting House at Alexandria, VA 1774 – 1874. The William Byrd Press, Inc.

Pippenger, W. E. (1992). Tombstone Inscriptions of Alexandria, Virginia: Volume 1. Family Line Publications.

Powell, M. G. (2000). The History of Old Alexandria, VA, from July 13, 1749 – May 24, 1861. Index by Pippenger, W. E. Westminster, MD: Willow Bend Books.

Quander, R. (2021). The Quanders, Since 1684, an Enduring African American Legacy. Christian Faith Publishing, Inc.

Dahmann, D. C. (2002). The Roster of Historic Congregational Members of the Old Presbyterian Meeting House.

Old Presbyterian Meeting House’s Visitor’s Guide to Alexandria’s Historic Old Presbyterian Meeting House. Trifold pamphlet.

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By David

Hello. With a passion for bringing history to life, I serve my community as a public historian and cemetery superintendent. My journey has led me to own businesses, conduct Civil War battlefield tours and research Alexandria’s cemeteries.

Since 2015, I have had the privilege of serving as Superintendent of the historic Presbyterian Cemetery and Columbarium, located within Alexandria's Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex. The Presbyterian Cemetery has close ties to the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, situated one mile east, where my family has worshipped for two generations. My parents are laid to rest in this cemetery, which holds a special place in my heart.

Most weekends, you can find me leading tours of the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex, where thirteen cemeteries are located, with over 35,000 buried. Considered one of the most historic cluster of cemeteries in the United States, I weave my enthusiasm for teaching with the stories of those interred there. I also manage a blog focused on all the cemeteries in Alexandria where the many souls buried across the city are memorialized.

In addition, I'm an active Board Member of both the Alexandria Historical Society and Lee-Fendall House Museum. As part of the Northern Virginia Cemetery Consortium, I diligently preserve endangered burial sites throughout the region.

If Alexandria’s history captivates you, I invite you to join one of my cemetery tours, read my blog on memorializing souls buried across the city’s cemeteries, or connect with me on social media. I find joy and purpose in bringing Alexandria’s rich past to life and serving my community.

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