McDowell, William Adair

1863 - 1925

Railroad Agent, Farmer and Banker.

Will McDowell was born outside of Frankfort, Kentucky on August 16, 1863, the son of Henry Clay McDowell and a great grandson of Henry Clay.  In 1885, he graduated from the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University with a Civil Engineering degree.  During 1888, he was the General Manager of the Red River Lumber Mills at Clay City.

Mr. McDowell later moved to Big Stone Gap, Virginia and operated several engineering concerns.  At the time, Big Stone Gap was a coal boomtown.  In 1890, he founded the Appalachian Bank and served as its President.  During the financial panic, the bank closed in 1893 and was liquidated in 1895.  Between 1895 and 1897, he worked as an Engineer with the L & N Railroad in Louisville.

In the fall of 1897, the Lexington & Eastern Railroad hired Mr. McDowell as its Assistant Engineer and Purchasing Agent.  His father was the President of the railroad.  In April 1906, he assumed the duties of the line’s General Manager and in August 1906, he was also appointed to the Board of Directors.  In 1913, he also became the L & E’s Vice President and Secretary, replacing George Copland.  At the time, the L & E was secretly owned by the L & N.  After the merger in 1915, he became the General Agent of the L & E Division of the L & N Railroad.

In 1917, Mr. McDowell resigned to become the President of the Phoenix & Third National Bank of Lexington and its affiliated Phoenix & Third Trust Company.  He had previously been a director of the Third National Bank and the consolidated bank (since 1911).  He was instrumental in the merger of the bank and trust companies in 1922 to form the Phoenix National Bank and Trust Company.  He continued as its President until his death.  In 1910, he was President of the Lexington Chamber of Commerce.

He was also heavily involved in the development of the timber and coal resources of Eastern Kentucky.  At the time of his death, Mr. McDowell was President of the Lost Creek Company, Kentucky Union (Land) Company, Goff Coal Land Company and Lexington’s Union Station Company.  He died on August 14, 1925.

William M. Ambrose, First Security National Bank & Trust Company (1835-1992), Limestone Press, Lexington, 2007.