Claudius Crozet (1789–1864) passed back and forth through our environs many times between 1839 (when he surveyed a route for trains to pierce the Blue Ridge Mountains) and his Civil War-period death at the home of his daughter near Richmond.
In March 1865, US General George A. Custer, after laying waste to industries, farms and croplands in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, plundered his way through this area while destroying much of the Virginia Central Railroad works of Colonel Crozet.
The Miller Manual Labor School of Albemarle was established as an entity in February 1874 by an act of the Virginia General Assembly. Newspapers throughout the state had carried news of the continuing legal maneuvers over the late Samuel Miller’s (1792–1869) million-dollar estate and his directives for the endowment of a school to be established near Batesville that would teach manual trades to Albemarle County’s white orphans.
A year later in 1875, authorities of the school advertised for proposals from architects to design the institution’s first building to include housing and teaching facilities for students and faculty.
In July 1876, Charlottesville Judge John L. Cochran, Chairman of the Building Committee, sought sealed bids from contractors and builders capable of erecting a building with “a front of about 228’ with side-wings about 150’ long, three stories high including basement, and to have a Mansard roof; to be supplied with water and gas, and heated by steam or hot water.” At the end of August, a contract was awarded to Richmond builder Thomas Woodroff. Higher-than-anticipated bids led architect A. Lybrock to adopt a modest scaling back of the depth of the facility’s two wings.
Existing C&O train depots at Mechum’s River and Greenwood anticipated the potential for freight and business passenger traffic that such a colossal enterprise would create. Miller School officials, too, considered the pros and cons of those logistics. Six miles north of the planned building site, farmers along the rail line in the neighborhood of Wayland’s Crossing prepared a petition to establish a rail stop, calculating that what might be more convenient for the school would also be good for their bottom lines.
Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Vice-President Williams C. Wickham (1820 – 1888) responded to the matter in June 1876 by meeting trackside with that small group of progressive farmers and landowners. He announced that, yes, their request would be honored by the railroad, but that the future depot’s designation would not be known as Farmers, as they had requested, but, instead, the “name will be Crozet or nothing.” Abram Wayland’s son Charles Lee (1861–1953), who had carried the local petition by horseback to landowners in the region, confirmed that historic meeting to Claudius Crozet’s biographer Col. William Couper of Virginia Military Institute in 1935.
On April 15, 1877, a landmark Chesapeake & Ohio RR order was issued, known as “General Order, No. 4. — A regular Freight Station, and a Flag Station for Passengers for Trains Nos. 1 and 2, to be known as CROZET, has been established at 110 Mile Post, with Mr. A. Wayland, as agent.”
Land for the depot was purchased in May of that year, and Crozet, Virginia, was on the map! In January 1878, Abram Wayland, in addition to being the C&O station agent, was appointed as Crozet’s first postmaster. C.E. May opened Crozet’s first store business that year.
Miller School’s first Superintendent, Prof. Charles E. Vawter, was joined by Virginia’s Governor and his Superintendent of Education for the August ’78 dedication of one of the grandest projects in Albemarle County history. That fall, the lifelong dream of Samuel Miller was realized when the first students began classes in the finest industrial school in the South.
The federal census of 1880 in and around the Crozet area made note of an increasing number of residents and occupations in addition to farm laborers and housekeepers. There were blacksmiths, brick makers, carpenters, merchants, millers, manganese mineworkers, nurserymen, railroad workers, a shoemaker, a steam mill sawyer, store clerks, telegraph operators, and wagon drivers.
Building materials and school furnishings were off-loaded in Crozet, a new phenomenon that became commonplace as additional buildings at the school were erected and furnished for its increasing enrollment. Wear and tear on the primitive dirt (and mud) road between Crozet and Miller School was remediated in 1881 when the school funded the laying of the first macadam road in this region of Virginia. The good road, in turn, directed even more business and prosperity to Crozet.
Farmers, fruit and ornamental tree nurseries, and other producers of goods south of the railroad routed their freight deliveries to Crozet to take advantage of the more sure-footed road surface. Entrepreneurial housekeepers in the Crozet area joined into the hospitality industry with others at nearby Afton, Greenwood, and Mechum’s River depots with the boarding and feeding of business and leisure travelers.
Eighteen seventy-six: oh, what a year it was! Nurtured by the railroad, the region prospered, bringing positive returns to early investors and more-varied occupations to its people. The nation celebrated its first hundred years by hosting the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia, PA, recognized as the first World’s Fair in the United States. Alexander Bell’s telephone was demonstrated publicly. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was published, and the areas beyond that writer’s beloved Hannibal, Missouri, were developing their reputation as the wild, wild West. In the eastern Montana Territory, Lieutenant Colonel George Custer may have all too briefly wished that he were back in old Virginia, as the US 7th Cavalry Regiment’s date with destiny loomed at the Battle of Little Big Horn.
How the nation was changing even as the Ballard, Early, Gentry, Harris, Jarman, Rothwell, Toombs, Wayland, Woods and other soon-to-be first-families-of-Crozet met trackside with W.C. Wickham that June of 1876!