Letter from Claudius Crozet to the Virginia Board of Public Works, November 5, 1854

Claudius Crozet comments on the problems with white labor on the Tunnel project, and the possibilities for increasing the use of black slaves.

To the Board of Public Works


There is nothing new as regards the character of the excavation in the main tunnel, which will probably remain unchanged to the end. Along the dangerous section of 200 feet in length, lately passed through, the work of laying the foundation in limestone for the arch is in progress; and the arch will be raised with all possible dispatch, under the most threatening part. This is a most a delicate operation; it being necessary, in order to make room for the abutments, to remove successively the treacherous rocks on which the timbering rests, which might be brought down, with the heavy superincumbent mass by incautious blasting.

Mr. Clopton, the machinist, has left the work; he is a meritorious young man and has been very useful: his place could not now be supplied for the same emoluments; but, as he has constructed all the machinery necessary for pumping and ventilating, and left nothing but repairs to be attended to, I have concluded to try if we cannot manage this department with the foreman he has instructed.

The white labor is occasionally troublesome; yet, while it continues scarce, we cannot dismiss as freely as proper discipline might require: Black labor would obviate this difficulty; It was found impossible, last year, to get a large force of this kind; owing to groundless apprehensions in regard to working in the tunnel; but now the character of this work is better understood, and I believe we can obtain a larger black force. With this kind of labor, there will be less interruption of the work and we shall have the whites employed under better control. if so authorised [sic] , I will proceed immediately to make arrangements in anticipation of the firing season, now close at hand. In this connexion [sic] , I have the honor to lay before you Wm. M. Sclater's proposal marked A: I expect to receive others; the proximity of the other works makes it important not to wait until our neighbours have secured the surplus of black labor for hire; which they are now engaged in looking for, particularly for the orange r. road extension.

At the end of the year, the ballasting and trimming of the road, with the exception of the tunnels, will be completed; so that no outside force will be needed next year.

The arrangement which Mr. Kelly had agreed to before as regards the 2d tunnel, and about which he subsequently made unexpected difficulties, has been signed by him, and the paper transmitted to your office. I have modified it, in conformity with that at the main tunnel, by reserving the percentage to be allowed him. Since he has subscribed officially to this arrangement, a recurrence to the difficulties he had raised would be matter of supererogation.

The plan I had conceived to penetrate through the heavy interior slide of the tunnel, has proved successful beyond my expectations; and I hope to see light soon again trough this tunnel. And here, gentlemen, allow me to say, that, while no one had had more cause to complain of Mr. Kelly, the contractor, of which you have had some evidence, I must do justice to his unflinching energy, skill and perfect control over his men, who expose themselves, even recklessly, wherever he directs them where they are now at work no craven would venture; but his commands are unhesitatingly obeyed; and all the difficulty I experience is rather to impress him and them with the necessity of caution.

On the east side, we have completed about 300 feet of this tunnel; but, at the western end, the big slide has so far prevented the arching. We have, at last, however, cut through it and are preparing to construct the portal: should we be so fortunate as to reach the inside before the frosty season lets in, I hope, progressing then from both ends, to open this tunnel at an early day next summer.

This will depend, of course, on the new bricks now to be contracted for: those of Mr. Dettor being inadequate to resist the immense load if over the arch in the middle section. The fact is that the clay near the railroad makes bricks generally too porous and brittle All contractors agree that there is only one spot convenient to the work when eligible clay can be obtained: it is on the land of a Mr. Crobarger: I mention this for reasons which will presently appear.

Pursuant to your instructions, I have received the following proposals for bricks:

  • 1st. from Mr. John Bruch, a first rate brickmaker $12.00 per M.
  • 2d " James H. Word do. Dependent on Crobarger's clay 9.00 " " (bid in the office)
  • 3d " Wm. B. Phillips do. do. 9.00
    and 75 cents per additional mile, if Crobarger's clay cannot be procured.
  • 4th " John W. Walker, also a first rate brick maker 8.85
    if the clay befound within one mile, and 75 cents for each mile beyond it
  • 5th Robt. Richardson, 1st rate brickmaker, dependent on Crobarger's clay 8.20
    if it cannot be obtained, an additional price left to the Engineer's decision, over 1 mile.
  • 6th Joseph Dettor, known to the Board, his own clay. 8.65
  • 7th Peter B. Wade & J. H. Hodges, unknown to me 8.40
    dependent on the condemnation of Crobarger's clay.
  • 8th W. C. Lipscomb & co. unknown to me as brickmaker 8.50
  • 9 Marcellus W. Harris and Crobarger 8.30

it will be seen that Mr. Harris has taken the most effectual way to secure Crobarger's clay, who declared that his clay should be obtained only by a partner or condemnation. Mr. Harris lives in Barboursville; he is a brickmaker; but I have had no opportunity to learn anything about him; though, from his business like manner, I feel favorably impressed in regard to his ability. he had promised to meet me at Gordonsville with certificates, but failed to do so.

I hand with this a piece of the best bricks made out of Dettor's best clay and one of a mere salmon brick of Crobarger's clay, showing the vast superiority of the latter which I broke with considerable difficulty. With the above explanations, the Board will readily make the selection.

Respectfully Submitted
C. Crozet
Chf Engr. Blue ridge r. r.

About this Document

  • Source: Claudius Crozet reporting upon the condition of the work under his charge and enclosing proposals for bricks for the Brooksville Tunnel, November 5, 1854
  • Author: Claudius Crozet
  • Extent: 3 pages
  • Citation: Archives, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA, Virginia Board of Public Works, Entry 125 "Blue Ridge Railroad", Box RG 57, Box 216, Folder 3
  • Date: November 5, 1854