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Park Agnew: A Stalwart of Alexandria’s Industrial and Political Landscape (1847-1910)

Introduction

Park Agnew, a name synonymous with Alexandria’s industrial growth and political dynamism, left an indelible mark on the city’s history. Born in 1847 as John Park Agnew, he became better known by his abbreviated moniker, Park Agnew. His life story is one of entrepreneurial success, civic leadership, and familial devotion. This article delves into the life and achievements of Park Agnew, shedding light on his multifaceted roles in the development of Alexandria.

Early Life and Entrepreneurial Spirit

From a young age, Park Agnew exhibited a strong entrepreneurial spirit inherited from his family. He was the son of John P. Agnew, who was often referred to as John Park Agnew’s father. In 1867, at the age of 20, Park Agnew received recognition as a communicant through examination, marking the beginning of his journey in both faith and business.

Industrial Ventures and Coal Business

Park Agnew’s influence extended to various industrial sectors. He played a pivotal role in the Alexandria Marine Railway and Ship Building Co., serving as its president. The company’s yard and wharves at the south end of Union Street became a hub of maritime activity under his leadership. Additionally, he managed the Sinclair and Agnew Gas and Coal Co., effectively continuing his family’s coal business. This venture thrived during the 1880s along the Georgetown, Alexandria, and Baltimore waterfronts.

Economic Successes and Contributions

Park Agnew’s notable achievements are exemplified by his thriving coal business, a testament to his shrewd business acumen. His success in this venture not only cemented his financial prosperity but also highlighted his skill in navigating challenging times. Further showcasing his business savvy, his company, J. P. Agnew & Co., constructed the “William T. Hart,” a four-masted schooner. This endeavor marked a historical moment on the Potomac River, underlining Agnew’s significant contributions to the industry.

Russell, A. J., photographer. Government Coal Wharf, Alexandria, Va. United States Alexandria Virginia Potomac River, None. [Between 1861 and 1865] [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2005689615/.

Political and Civic Engagements

Park Agnew’s influence extended beyond business. He actively participated in the political and civic life of Alexandria. His tenure as the Postmaster from 1890 to 1894 showcased his commitment to public service. Agnew’s dedication to the Republican Party was evident through his roles as the Chairman of the Republican State Committee for Virginia and as a City Alderman from 1887 to 1888.

Legacy and Enduring Impact

The Agnew family residence at 308 South Pitt Street stood as a symbol of their prominence. While the residence is no longer present, its legacy lives on through the parking lot for The Basilica of St. Mary. Park Agnew’s contributions also extended to cultural and community institutions, such as his involvement with the Alexandria Library Company and his leadership in the Relief Hook and Ladder Fire Company.

A portrait of Park Agnew and his son John Park Agnew, graciously provided by Ann Agnew.

Conclusion

Park Agnew’s life embodies the spirit of a visionary industrialist, a dedicated public servant, and a devoted family member. His multifaceted contributions to Alexandria’s growth and development earned him a lasting place in the city’s history. Park Agnew’s legacy continues to inspire those who value entrepreneurship, civic engagement, and the pursuit of excellence.

Agnew family burial site is in The Presbyterian Cemetery in Alexandria, VA. Photographed by D. Heiby.

PARK AGNEW
1847 – 1910

Descendants of the Agnew family still make their home in Alexandria as of the present day.

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.

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

Unpublished Works:

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

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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 within Alexandria's Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex. This cemetery is owned by the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, located one mile east, where my family has worshipped for two generations. My parents are laid to rest in the Presbyterian Cemetery.

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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