Claudius Crozet

Claudius Crozet (1789–1864)

Claudius Crozet was a civil engineer best known for his work blasting tunnels through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Born in France, he received a technical education and artillery training before entering the French army. He was captured by the Russians at the Battle of Borodino in 1812 and served two years as a prisoner of war. From 1816 to 1823 Crozet taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, after which he began the first of two stints as principal engineer for the Virginia Board of Public Works. A difficult man, Crozet clashed with government officials over transportation projects in western Virginia. He resigned in 1832 and spent time working in Louisiana before returning to the position in 1837 and serving until 1843. Crozet taught at the Virginia Military Institute and was the first president of its board. In 1849, as chief engineer for the Blue Ridge Railroad Company, he began work on a series of tunnels through the mountains separating Charlottesville and Staunton. The largest, designated the Crozet Tunnel, opened in April 1858. By that time Crozet had moved on to a water project in Washington, D.C., and in 1859 became the chief engineer of the Virginia and Kentucky Railroad. He died in 1864. The town of Crozet in Albemarle County is named for him. MORE...

 

Early Years

Crozet was born Claude Crozet on December 31, 1789, in Villefranche-sur-Saône, France. After his mother, Pierrette Varion Crozet, died, he and two of his siblings moved to Paris about 1800 with their father, François Crozet, a wine merchant. In 1805 Crozet secured admission to the École Polytechnique, where he received a technical education and military training. After graduating in 1807, he entered the artillery school at Metz and two years later was commissioned a second lieutenant in a combat engineers unit. During Napoléon I's invasion of Russia in 1812, Crozet served in an artillery corps and on July 22 won promotion to captain. Taken prisoner in September of that year at the Battle of Borodino, he was released in 1814 and returned to service in the French army.

In April 1816 Crozet resigned his commission. He entered into a marriage contract with Agathe DeCamp on June 5 of that year and married in Paris two days later. Before her death on March 14, 1861, they had two daughters and one son. Soon after his marriage he immigrated to the United States and began using the name Claudius Crozet. He started teaching at the U.S. Military Academy, at West Point, New York, in the autumn of 1816. Taking his place alongside several other French émigrés on the faculty, Crozet added to the curriculum his expertise in the science of artillery and developed courses in geometry. He published a textbook entitled A Treatise on Descriptive Geometry: For the Use of the Cadets of the United States Military Academy (1821). Despite his academic success, Crozet feuded with administrators and in 1821 sought without success a position at the University of Virginia, which had not yet opened. He finally left West Point in 1823 to become principal engineer for the Virginia Board of Public Works, effective on June 2 of that year.

Engineering and the Crozet Tunnel

Although the Board of Public Works had existed for seven years, by the time of Crozet's appointment its program of supporting private internal improvement projects had yet to reap many economic benefits for the state. The directors immediately charged their new principal engineer with the tasks of aiding in surveying small-scale projects and examining the feasibility of a statewide route linking the Ohio River and Tidewater Virginia. During the summer of 1825 Crozet undertook a detailed survey of western Virginia, and over the next few years he strongly urged the General Assembly to authorize construction of a transportation system comparable to New York's Erie Canal. At first he recommended extending the existing water route along the James River across the state to the Kanawha River, but he soon began advocating a railroad as the most efficient and cost-effective means of linking the Ohio River with the Chesapeake Bay.

Crozet found, however, that sectional interests rendered members of the General Assembly unsympathetic to a centralized statewide plan of internal improvements. The shortsighted goals of local politicians consistently frustrated the forward-looking engineer, who believed that such improvements would make Virginia the most important state in the country. In 1831 the assembly cut the principal engineer's salary and refused to act on his plans for a state-funded railroad in western Virginia. In response to these difficulties, made worse by the death of his elder daughter the year before, Crozet resigned.

Crozet's expertise in internal improvements and his French background led him to Louisiana, where he became the state engineer in 1832. He found the politics there just as complicated as they had been in Virginia, and in 1834 he resigned in order to accept the presidency of Jefferson College, a preparatory school in Saint James Parish. Two years later Crozet left to become a civil engineer with the city of New Orleans, but after briefly struggling with the city's drainage problems he decided to leave Louisiana altogether. This restlessness was typical of Crozet, whom contemporaries frequently described as irritable, intolerant of anyone who disagreed with him, and unpopular. Despite his difficult personality, on April 5, 1837, the Virginia Board of Public Works rehired him as principal engineer. The General Assembly eliminated the office in March 1843. Five years later on order of the assembly Crozet prepared a lithographic map of internal improvements and an accompanying brief history entitled Outline of the Improvements in the State of Virginia (1848).

From 1837 to 1845 Crozet served as the first president of the board of directors of the Virginia Military Institute, which opened in Lexington in 1839. Using his own formal military training he helped install a curriculum patterned after his experiences at the École Polytechnique and at the U.S. Military Academy. He worked from 1845 to 1849 as principal of the financially plagued Richmond Academy. In 1848 Crozet published An Arithmetic for Colleges and Schools, which appeared in two subsequent editions. He also wrote another textbook, First Lessons in Arithmetic: Being an Introduction to the Complete Treatise for Schools and Colleges (1857).

In 1849 Crozet embarked on the work that earned him a national reputation as the chief engineer for the Blue Ridge Railroad Company (later part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company). On the planned railroad route extending from Charlottesville to Staunton, he tested many of his ideas concerning the construction of railroad tunnels through mountainous terrain. In an era when tunneling through solid mountain rock was considered prohibitively expensive, Crozet proposed four manually drilled single-track tunnels through the Blue Ridge Mountains ranging from 100 to more than 4,200 feet in length at a cost of about $803,000. Construction took eight years. The longest tunnel, located at Rockfish Gap and usually designated the Crozet Tunnel, opened in April 1858. The expense and large-scale coordination required inflamed Crozet's testy personality, which was exacerbated by the death of his son in April 1855.

Later Years

In 1857 Crozet became the principal assistant engineer in charge of building an aqueduct to secure a fresh water supply for Washington, D.C. His position was eliminated in July 1859, and the next year he became the chief engineer of the Virginia and Kentucky Railroad. Sectional tensions complicated work on this rail line, and construction stopped when Kentucky did not secede from the Union. Crozet died at his son-in-law's home in Chesterfield County on January 29, 1864. Initially buried in an unmarked grave in Richmond's Shockoe Cemetery, his body was reinterred in 1942 on the grounds of the Virginia Military Institute. The Albemarle County town of Crozet and the VMI mess hall bear his name. The Richmond residence where he lived from 1828 to 1832 was added to the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and 1972, respectively.

Major Works

  • A Treatise on Descriptive Geometry: For the Use of the Cadets of the United States Military Academy (1821)
  • Outline of the Improvements in the State of Virginia (1848)
  • An Arithmetic for Colleges and Schools (1848)
  • First Lessons in Arithmetic: Being an Introduction to the Complete Treatise for Schools and Colleges (1857)

Time Line

  • December 31, 1789 - Claudius Crozet is born in Villefranche-sur-Saône, France.
  • 1800 - Claudius Crozet moves to Paris with his father and two of his siblings.
  • 1805–1807 - Claudius Crozet attends the École Polytechnique, where he receives a technical education and military training.
  • 1807–1809 - Claudius Crozet enters the artillery school at Metz.
  • July 22, 1812 - Claudius Crozet is promoted to captain during Napoléon I's invasion of Russia.
  • September 7, 1812 - Claudius Crozet is taken prisoner at the Battle of Borodino, in Russia.
  • 1814 - Taken prisoner by the Russians at the Battle of Borodino in 1812, Claudius Crozet is returned to service in the French army.
  • April 1816 - Claudius Crozet resigns his commission in the French army.
  • June 7, 1816 - Claudius Crozet and Agathe DeCamp are married in Paris.
  • Autumn 1816 - Claudius Crozet begins teaching at the U.S. Military Academy, at West Point, New York.
  • June 2, 1823 - Claudius Crozet becomes principal engineer for the Virginia Board of Public Works.
  • Summer 1825 - Claudius Crozet undertakes a detailed survey of western Virginia.
  • 1831 - Claudius Crozet resigns as principal engineer for the Virginia Board of Public Works after the General Assembly cuts his salary and refuses to act on his plans for a state-funded railroad in western Virginia.
  • 1832–1834 - Claudius Crozet serves as state engineer of Louisiana.
  • 1834–1836 - Claudius Crozet serves as president of Jefferson College, a preparatory school in Saint James Parish, Louisiana.
  • 1836 - Claudius Crozet becomes a civil engineer with the city of New Orleans, but stays in the job only briefly.
  • 1837–1845 - Claudius Crozet serves as the first president of the board of directors of the Virginia Military Institute.
  • April 5, 1837 - Claudius Crozet for the second time becomes the principal engineer of the Virginia Board of Public Works.
  • March 1843 - The General Assembly eliminates the office of principal engineer of the Virginia Board of Public Works.
  • 1845–1849 - Claudius Crozet works as the principal of the Richmond Academy.
  • 1849 - Claudius Crozet is named chief engineer for the Blue Ridge Railroad Company (later part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company).
  • 1857–July 1859 - Claudius Crozet serves as the principal assistant engineer in charge of building an aqueduct to secure a fresh water supply for Washington, D.C.
  • April 1858 - The Crozet Tunnel, located at Rockfish Gap, in Nelson County, opens.
  • 1860 - Claudius Crozet becomes the chief engineer of the Virginia and Kentucky Railroad.
  • March 14, 1861 - Agathe DeCamp Crozet, the wife of Claudius Crozet, dies.
  • January 29, 1864 - Claudius Crozet dies at his son-in-law's home in Chesterfield County. He is buried first in Richmond and then at the Virginia Military Institute.

References

Further Reading
Adams, Sean Patrick. "Crozet, Claudius." In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 3, edited by Sara B. Bearss, 580–582. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2006.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Adams, S. P., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Claudius Crozet (1789–1864). (2017, May 15). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Crozet_Claudius_1789-1864.

  • MLA Citation:

    Adams, Sean Patrick and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Claudius Crozet (1789–1864)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 15 May. 2017. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: April 7, 2017 | Last modified: May 15, 2017


Contributed by Sean Patrick Adams and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography