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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! My name is David Heiby, and I am a passionate public historian dedicated to preserving and sharing the rich history of Alexandria, Virginia, and the surrounding region. With a deep love for bringing the past to life, I am honored to serve my community in this meaningful role.

Before starting this journey, I enjoyed a fulfilling career as a businessman and entrepreneur. Now retired, I have found a new sense of purpose in my work as a public historian. My passion for history was ignited at a young age growing up in the congregation of the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, VA, where many historic figures are buried in its 18th-century burial ground. I still attend to this day.

Since 2015, I have also had the privilege of serving as the Superintendent of the historic Presbyterian Cemetery and Columbarium, located within the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex in Alexandria. This cemetery holds a special place in my family's history, as it was started in the early 1800s by the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, a historic congregation dating back to 1772 that is situated one mile east in the heart of Old Town. The cemetery is the final resting place of my parents, and the Meeting House is where I have worshipped for over 60 years.

As a public historian, I am thrilled to lead tours of the Wilkes Street Cemetery, which has thirteen cemeteries in a complex with over 35,000 interments. It is considered the most historic cluster of cemeteries in the United States. These sacred grounds offer a fascinating glimpse into the story of Alexandria and its people. I also enjoy guiding tours of nearby Civil War battlefields, combining my passion for history with the compelling narratives of those who fought and fell on these hallowed grounds, bringing their stories to life. I primarily lead tours of Harpers Ferry, South Mountain, and the Antietam Battlefields, along with tracing the footsteps of those involved in the Assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865. I am also a licensed tour guide in Washington, D.C.

To further engage the community, I manage a comprehensive website dedicated to Alexandria's cemeteries, where the stories of the many souls buried across the city are shared, and their lives are commemorated. This platform serves as a valuable resource for those interested in exploring the rich history of Alexandria through its final resting places. I am also an active Board Member of the Alexandria Historical Society and the Lee-Fendall House Museum.

Whether you are a resident or a visitor to the area, I invite you to explore Alexandria's rich history by joining one of my cemetery or battlefield tours, visiting my website to research the stories of those who have shaped our city, or connecting with me on social media. My website is a comprehensive resource for those seeking to uncover the fascinating tales and histories intertwined with Alexandria's cemeteries. Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or would like to schedule a tour. I am pleased to bring the city's captivating past to life and serve my community meaningfully.

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