ECLP’s Connection to The Burning of Washington, 1814


Lewis H. Machen

Lewis Machen Saves History’s Records

President James Madison fled a capital in flames through the land that is now Riverbend Park, but did you know that there is another park in Fairfax County with a connection to the burning of Washington?

When the British approached the Capital City in the summer of 1814, Lewis Machen was a 24-year-old junior clerk in the U.S. Senate. He had, just a few weeks earlier, purchased his first property. Because he owned land in Maryland, he was released from his office in the D.C. militia, and that freed him to make a critical decision as the British drew near.

Many civilians were either fleeing Washington and seeking safety or joining their militia units on the outskirts of the city. The chaos prevented Machen’s superiors from accessing the Senate, and Machen had received no direct orders about what to do. Taking matters into his own hands, he arranged for the Senate’s archival material to be taken away by a wagon driver he hired. He convinced another junior clerk to help, and together they loaded the most important documents of the Senate into the wagon and saw them hauled away to Machen’s property in Prince George’s County. The wagon journey was not without its interruptions. At one point, Machen had to replace a wagon wheel and, later, the wagon overturned. However, Machen eventually delivered the documents to a secure point. His quick thinking and the ability to take responsibility when needed saved the written records of the first 25 years of the United States.

There’s a historic marker commemorating Madison’s crossing of the Potomac River at Riverbend Park, and after you visit there, follow up with a visit to Lewis Machen’s farm at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park. Although Machen did not live at the Walney farmhouse inside ECLP during the War of 1812, he moved there in 1843 and left his mark. At ECLP, you can follow the trails of history and the story of perseverance in the face of the fire, and you can see evidence of Machen’s ice house, dairy and ice pond on site.

Ellanor C. Lawrence Park has programs about its historic past. Find information about the park’s history and about the park’s programs on the Fairfax County Park Authority website.



Author Alli Hartley is a historian based at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in Chantilly.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .

About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s