Claudius Crozet

Claudius Crozet

(December 31, 1789 – January 29, 1864)

DJ Name: DJ Crazy Crozet

These two Virginia gals have so much fun writing about old timey Virginians, they decided to throw another one into the Historic Shuffle mix. This lad lived in the Commonwealth many moons ago, blasting not only his favorite tunes but also the Blue Ridge Mountains so that railroads and tunnels and bridges could run under and through and over them. But take note! Claud could make tunnels that ran through mountains without dynamite too (b/c he was so strong or because like dynamite didn’t yet exist for some of his life?)! However, this Commonwealthian was actually from France, so he probably referred to them as the Bleu Ridge Montagnes instead. Without further adieu, here’s the story of Claudius Crozet and his crazet songs:

Claudius Crozet was born on December 31, 1789, in Villefranche, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France (had to do a li’l copy and pasting action for that one from Wikipedia), to papa François Crozet, who worked as a wine merchant (parfait), and mama Pierrette Varion Crozet. Claud’s mom passed away early on, and his dad took him and his two siblings to Paris in 1800. In Paris, Claud got accepted in 1805 to one of France’s most prestigious schools, the École Polytechnique, where he studied engineering and “military matters,” learning how to construct bridges and blow things up, we suspect. Two years later, he graduated as a sub-lieutenant. 

But Claud didn’t wanna just be a sub anymore, so he then moved on to the northeastern France city of Metz to attend the Imperial Artillery School. In 1809, he received a commission as a second lieutenant and served in the French Army under none other than Napoleon Dynamite – whoops, we mean Napoleon Bonaparte (not to be confused with what’s to come in his life, when the mountains were blownaparte). Movin’ on up from sub to second, Claudius then made captain of the field hockey team – whoops, again! – he became a captain in the French army in 1812 during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.

However, things weren’t all rosy in Russia. In September of 1812, during the Battle of Borodino, our boy Claud was kidnapped and taken prisoner by the Russian army. For two years he disappeared, perhaps livin’ it up saying “nyet” to a fourth shot of vodka, before being released back to le French in 1814. However, once Nappy Boy Napoleon surrendered at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Claudius said “au revoir” to the army.

Returning to the workday world outside of the army, Claudius soon became enchanted by a Miss Agathe Decamp, and they wed in 1816. They had two daughters, Agatha and Claudia (very clever with those names, huh!) and a son, Alfred. The fam said “au revoir” to France in 1816, and immigrated to the ol’ U.S. of A., which was itself emerging from its own turmoil, the War of 1812, in which the U.S. fought the Brits over maritime rights because the U.S.’s pride was hurt when the gosh darn Brits kept nabbing American sailors who they accused of deserting the British Navy. When Napoleon surrendered, the Brits were able to bring reinforcements into this war front, thus allowing them to prevail over the Americans. 

Anyway, back to Claud who was settling into the ‘Merican way of life, trading his vodka for moonshine and grilling up hamburgers, or something like that. He also got hired as an engineering professor at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York. He was one of many French émigrés on faculté and brought quite the engineering expertise to the drawing table. He taught the sciences of artillery and courses in geometry. Safe to say neither Emmy nor Camille would have taken his classes. No maths for these here history majors! 

While a professeur, Claud published A Treatise on Descriptive Geometry: For the Use of the Cadets of the United States Military Academy in 1821, which at the time described as, “the most popular book of the year for book clubs that only have military wives as their members. Three-point-five stars.” Fellow Virginian and former French ex-pat Thomas Jefferson said Claud was “by far the best mathematician in the United States.” Couldn’t be us!

Perhaps that’s why Claudius Crozet took an interest in the not yet opened University of Virginia. With hopes of saying wahoowa, Claud applied, without success, to a gig and slept in his navy blue and orange sweatshirt as he anxiously awaited a job offer. Hoo’s gonna get this job? Not Claud! However, he still packed up his bags and family and moved on down to this here Virginia where he was elected Principal Engineer and Surveyor for the Virginia Board of Public Works, which was a governmental agency that oversaw and financed the creation of all of Virginia’s transportation-related improvements until 1903. Think: tunnels, bridges, railroads, and allegedly even waterslides. Upon arrival, Claud was greeted by fellow engineers in Richmond (oh baby) with a six-pack of Three Notch’d Minute Man (like fellow shuffler Jack Jouett’s fav IPA) and thus Virginia became home. 

Back then, Virginia didn’t look quite like it does today. It extended westward from the Atlantic Ocean to the oHIo River and it was flexin’ as the largest state east of the Mississippi River because it included what is now mountain mama West Virginia. Crozet worked on hundreds of transportation projects like bike lanes – oops, kidding! He worked on the Northwestern Turnpike, which was a major road crossing the Appalachian Mountains, and also the Chesterfield Railroad, which was a 13-mile long railroad that connected the Midlothian coal mines with wharves located down by the James River. 

A major project Claud also focused on was to study the feasibility of a statewide route to link the Ohio River to Tidewater, Virginia. He composed a detailed survey for a canal system, but quickly realized a railroad would be better and switched tracks with his plan. Yet the Assembly wasn’t impressed. In response, the Assembly cut Claud’s salary and refused to accept the railroad plan. Ouch. While Claudius Crozet was focused on the long game and future of Virginia, many of the men on the Assembly were more intrigued by short-sighted goals and quick money gain$.  

So Crozet resigned and took his French butin to the Cajun land of Louisiana where he became the state engineer in 1832. After a few years of different jobs he said he missed life in the Commonwealth and headed north to the land of the Bleu Ridge where he returned to working on roads, canals and apparently even ski lifts. In addition to building and surveying and stuff, Crozet put his military mind to work and served as the President of the Board of Directors at Virginia Military Institute, a newly opened hub for dudes just like Claud who liked maths and “military matters.”

After six or so years of college lyfe and frat parties, Claud had had enough. He was appointed chief engineer of the Blue Ridge Railroad Company. He was tasked with finding a way to get the choo choo trains over the mountains, to which he said, “but why not through?” and thus came to be the infamous tracks of the four man-made Blue Ridge Tunnels during a time when carving up a mountain was low-key expensive. Also all tunnels were dug up a whole decade before the invention of dynamite, FYI! So when the Irish immigrant and enslaved laborers perforated through the rock of the Blue Ridge Tunnel, they were within mere inches from each other. 

It was a near perfect engineering masterpiece. Claud, overseeing the laborers, had some men dig in Augusta County while others dug in Nelson County. His mighty math brain must’ve been extra sharp, because he simply crossed his fingers and hoped that the two sides would eventually hit each other. And, spoiler alert, they did! Sure, there were a few accidents and cholera diagnoses, but dag nab it they succeeded. Construction took about eight years and the longest tunnel, located at Rockfish Gap, officially opened for railroad service in 1858. Locomotives moved through the Blue Ridge Tunnel until 1944 when it was replaced by a new one at a lower elevation on a curved alignment which could accommodate larger trains. Today, you can tour the tunnel, which Emmy did last week with her ever-so-fashionable head lamp (which also led to Historic Shuffle inspo #behindthescenes). 

After years spent working on the railroad, all the live long day, Claud eventually retired and opened Mudhouse Coffee Roaster — oops kidding! He joined his family in Midlothian and passed away on January 29, 1864. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Richmond’s Shockoe Cemetery, but was reinterred in 1942 on the grounds of VMI. Earning the nickname, “Pathfinder of the Blue Ridge,” and his very own Virginia town (aka Crozet). Thanks to his busy body advocacy for railroads, Claudius Crozet sealed a rich legacy in Virginia history (and our Virginia hearts), but for some reason doesn’t have a Three Notch’d beer named after him yet. Claudy judgment on their part, we think!

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