Lunsford Lindsay Lomax, 1886-91

Lunsford Lindsay Lomax
Lunsford Lindsay Lomax

West Point graduate Gen. Lunsford Lindsay Lomax, another applicant for president in 1872 and a distinguished officer for the Confederate army during the Civil War, was farming in Fauquier County and was a friend of the two Lees when the board of visitors selected him to succeed Conrad. While popular, he could claim no experience in operating an educational institution. To his credit, after his appointment and before he took office, Lomax began studying other land-grant college programs, even visiting one of the premier schools and holding discussions with government officials involved in agricultural programs.

During Lomax’s term in office—and apparently against his wishes—the state legislature voted to establish an Agricultural Experiment Station at VAMC, and, like so many new initiatives at the college, the experiment station became a topic for debate and divisiveness. Under Lomax, VAMC returned to the semester system, added a non-diploma business program, re-instituted the preparatory department for students not appropriately prepared for college work, and substituted a bachelor of science degree for the A.B. degree established under Conrad.

No major buildings had been added on campus since Minor’s presidency, and Lomax pressed for and received $20,000 for a new barracks and $4,000 to convert the old Preston and Olin Building into a shop. The popular new barracks, known initially as Number One Barracks and later as Lane Hall in honor of President Minor’s nemesis and the first commandant of the corps, James H. Lane, was constructed of locally made bricks and included bathrooms with hot and cold water. The building became the fomenting ground for several corps “traditions,” including certain practices that involved the hazing of freshmen, popularly called “rats.”

While Lomax faced little political interference, dissatisfaction grew with VAMC as an agricultural school, a mechanical school, and a technical school, even though Lomax, himself, was held in high regard. The new Agricultural Experiment Station also came under heavy attack for not producing practical results with immediate application for farmers.

After conducting a study of the college and its mission in 1890, the board of visitors recommended that the college be reorganized on a two-track system of agriculture and mechanics, a change actively opposed by Lomax. Increasingly, members of the board determined that Lomax was not the right person to take the school in a new direction.

Near the end of the year, a group of students in Barracks Number One became intoxicated during a party, destroying furniture and breaking doors and windows. The student behavior was the final straw, although the rector of the board convinced the school’s governing body to wait until April 1891 to make any final decisions. At that time, three professors were terminated because the board did not believe they had the proper training to fit into the proposed program. Lomax, who was still held in high personal regard by members of the board, was asked to resign and to consider another position at VAMC. But he preferred to leave the college and resigned immediately. The board appointed John E. Christian, a professor in the school, as acting president to fill Lomax’s unexpired term.