Patrick Donovan

A young Irishman from Lynchburg, taken in the prime of his life.

Donovan died at his post that terrible night at Thaxton, which was something not too uncommon for the men who worked on the railroad in the 19th century. He seemed to love the work despite the risks of his profession. Tributes printed after his death noted his devotion to his work and the frequent promotions he had received while working for Norfolk & Western.1 One paper mentioned that Donovan was “recognized as one of the most capable engineers in the service of the Norfolk and Western road.”2 He was still in his early-thirties at the time of his death, but he had already made quite a career on the railroad.3

Patrick was still single, but tributes also made mention of his devotion to his family and described him more than once as “kind” and an “affectionate son”.4 Other adjectives used to describe him were “trusted”, “popular”, and “highly esteemed.”5 6 Donovan’s father was a grocer in Lynchburg, and both he and the city had lost a beloved son in the rubble at Thaxton.7

After his body was recovered, it was taken to the Church of the Holy Cross in Lynchburg for funeral services. At the conclusion of the service, his remains were buried in what is now called the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Cemetery in Lynchburg.8 The church is still a part of the community and the website can be visited at You can view a photo of Donovan’s grave inscription here.

Do you have more information about Patrick Donovan? If you think he might have been an ancestor of yours, or if you have some additional information that you would like to share, I’d love to hear from you. Thanks!


  1. “In Memoriam”, The Daily News (Lynchburg, VA), July 4, 1889, Volume 47, Number 144: p. 2.
  2. “The Railroad Disaster”, The Daily News (Lynchburg, VA), July 3, 1889, Volume 47, Number 143, p. 3.
  3. Census record for Patrick Donovan, Year: 1880; Census Place: Lynchburg, Campbell, Virginia; Roll: 1359; Family History Film: 1255359; Page: 324D; Enumeration District: 053.
  4. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Monthly Journal, October, 1889, Volume XXIII, Number 10: p.846.
  5. See note 1 above.
  6. “Thirty Killed”, The Daily Virginian (Lynchburg, VA), July 3, 1889, p. 1.
  7. J.H. Chataigne, Chataigne’s Lynchburg City Directory, 1885, p. 69.
  8. “The Railroad Wreck”, The Daily News (Lynchburg, VA), July 4, 1889, Volume 47, Number 144, p.3.

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