Letter from Claudius Crozet to the President and Directors of the Blue Ridge Railroad Co., May 6, 1850

Claudius Crozet keeps the Board informed of the project's progress on the Blue Ridge and measures that progress in numbers of "hands" employed and the amount of rock and earth moved.

To the President and Directors of the Blue ridge Railroad Co.

Thinking that it will be advisable to keep you informed by quarterly reports of the progress of the work in my charge, I have the honor to submit the following in lieu of the April report, which was not made then, in consequence of the strike which took place, about that time, among the irish laborers and suspended some sections of the work. I am happy to state that it led to no serious disturbance and that operations have been resumed without change of former prices: most of those who had taken a part in this business have left the line.

We have made an opening at the top of the deep cut, on each side of the mountain, independently of the progress of the excavation at the bottom of each cut, in order to reach the heading of the tunnel sooner and thus to accelerate its completion.

On the West side, where many persons apprehended the interference of water, none has been found so far, even under a spouty surface. But the excavation is not so favorable, being, so far, a soft, friable rock, which crumbled by exposure to the air: should it continue to, some delay will be experienced by the necessity of making brick for arching, and of building the portal at once, in order to guard against slides which this rock is liable to. To-day, however, a slight change has taken place for the better in the color and hardness of the rock, and, though we are getting near the entrance, the difficulties and delay just mentioned may not be experienced, or may be obviated by extending the deep cut.

Here we have had to turn the turnpike in two places: near the deep cut, out of its reach and below the cut, as a point where the embankment has gained elevation enough to pass over it; we had likewise to divert the course of the creek which occupied the bottom of the valley, to save the cost and maintenance of two bridges or culverts.

On the east side, water is found in a comparatively large body; but here it matters little; the declivity will readily carry it off. As to the rock, it is much mined, even in a width of 16 feet, where several seams occur of quite a different character, some of it being the same crumbling brown slate; the rest hard trap rock in round boulders or hard slate: probably the roof will require no arching, at first, at least.

Almost all along the line, excavations uncover much more favorable soil than we had being led to expect from the surface: this will materially reduce the cost and make the cuts more open to the sun; though, on the other hand, it increases the proportion of excavation, especially with the large slips which take place in this soil; and thereby more numerous spoil banks, or broader embankments, will be formed, than were contemplated. The only palace where rock of the hardest kind is found in a large body is on the west of Robertson's hollow; but it does not extend through that cut, which is 62 ft deep at one place.

Across this and Dove Spring hollow, banks of between 70 and 75 feet are raised, covering each a large and rapid stream; the plan, I have adopted to dispose of these mountain torrents, will be both safe and far less expensive than the large culverts originally contemplated, and will, I hope, meet with your approbation; it consists in filling the bed of the run with large rocks, through which the water passes pretty freely; and supplying, besides, on one side, several square culverts as a vent in case of overflow or temporary choking of the rocky bed.

The rock at the second tunnel, between these two hollows is now very hard and solid: whether it will stand without arching is yet problematical; and, in view of the contingency when such arching may become necessary, it is a question which I purpose submitting respectfully to your board, whether it would not be more expedient to increase the excavation at once for the purpose of constructing an arch, than to postpone it until the necessity shall be imperious, when it would certainly cost more. Indeed, the same question will present itself at all the tunnels; for, while great economy will result from dispensing with arches, yet no absolute security can exist without, however hard the rock may be; as it is impossible to foresee what effect exposure to the air and hidden defects in the stratification may ultimately produce.

Nothing has been done yet at the third tunnel: operations will begin there next week.

In Blaire part, the work is comparatively light, as may be seen by reference to any estimate of the cost: about half a mile is nearly completed in a continuous line. Elsewhere, owing to the steepness of the ground, which does not allow of hauling along a whole deep cut, the work is necessarily scattered.

From the monthly estimates, as well as from the following statement, you will perceive that the force employed is not quite sufficient to reach the limits of the annual appropriation. I have directed the contractors to increase their force, which could not have been done before, while the cuts were shallow; owing to the impossibility of employing many hands on ground which by it steepness forbids hauling with carts until part of the road bed has been formed for it. In addition to this, the number of hands on the tunnel section cannot receive a full complement until these are entered, when hands of a special character must be engaged.

The force employed by each contractor is as follows:

  • 1st Section, Kelly, Larguey, [?], Foremen 4 Drillers 25 quarry men 28—57
  • Pickholders 14 Smiths 4—18
  • Carpenters 2—Drivers 7—9
  • besides 7 horses and carts and some wheelbarrows. Total – – men – — 84
  • 2d, 3d, and 4th Section, Mordecai Sizer and Co. Foremen and overseers 9 – drillers and miners 60 – 69
  • white laborers 30 negroes 42 – – 72
  • masons 4
  • with 16 teams, 10 carts and 8 railroad cars. Total — men 145
  • 5th Section, John Kelly and Co. Overseers – 5 Masons 2 Carpenter 1 — 8
  • white laborers 52, Black smiths 2 54
  • Total 62
  • 8th Section, Ths. J. Randolph overseer 1 quarry men 8 9
  • negroes 22 not at work 5 27
  • with 5 carts. Total 36

It will be perceived that Col. Randolph's force is much too small; I have asked him to increase it; but as he works negroes altogether he cannot very conveniently do it, at this time. Probably, as his work is light, it may be better not to hurry him this year and throw the increase upon the other contractors, by which means they may be enabled to finish as soon as Col. Randolph.

The season is now fair, and we all hope, and earnestly desire, that your honorable Board may find it convenient to inspect the work in its present stage; it has progressed far enough to develop the character of the ground, as well as the plan of every part, and the propriety of the location; yet not so far, that the suggestions and directions of the Board may not still be available. This visit will be productive of much advantage to the work. There is now a riding path all along the line: the examination will probably occupy two days.

I drew a few days ago through the band of Va. For $500: my expenses and liabilities exceed by about $100 former advances. Besides this and the emoluments now due, I shall have to procure an additional superior level for the lower residency, the old level now in use there, may answer for common purposes and in case of accidents to either of the others; but it is not reliable for nice adjustments of grade or surface.

This report was designed to accompany the draft; but was delayed by objections made by a contractor to his estimate, which claimed my immediate personal attention, measurements and calculations.

Very respectfully submitted

C. Crozet
Engn. B. R. R. R

About this Document

  • Source: Letter from Claudius Crozet to the President and Directors of the Blue Ridge Railroad Co., May 6, 1850
  • Author: Claudius Crozet
  • Extent: 4 pages
  • Citation: Archives, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA, Virginia Board of Public Works, Entry 125 "Blue Ridge Railroad", Box 215, Last Folder
  • Date: May 6, 1850