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Chapman J. French Papers

Identifier: Ms-2009-034

Scope and Content

This collection contains the papers of Chapman J. French, a civil engineer employed by the Norfolk & Western Railway during the first half of the twentieth century. The collection is divided into two series:

Series I. Professional Papers, 1900-1957. This series contains such items as correspondence, memoranda, working notes, and specifications for engineering projects, as well as administrative memoranda and rules governing the company's engineering department and other aspects of the company's operation. The collection includes documentation on topics relating to construction of railways and associated structures but also includes many papers relating to legal agreements, property acquisition, rights of way, and court cases. Included among the papers are a number of property plat maps and track diagrams, as well as a collection of blank forms used in various aspects of the company's operation--particularly contracts and agreements. Geographical areas substantially represented within the papers include Columbus, Ohio; Narrows, Virginia; Norfolk, Virginia; and Portsmouth, Ohio.

Series II. Personal Papers, 1911-1945. French's personal papers are largely devoted to various purchases of household and farm goods and include such items as receipts, invoices and correspondence with various merchants and manufacturers. Also included are materials relating to French's car (a 1914 Hupmobile), the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, the brewing of alcoholic beverages, the Matthew French monument, the Giles County Game & Fish Protective Association, numerous fraternal lodges, personal health (including correspondence relating to French's use of a hair restorative), and a number of letters regarding a contract between the Virginian Railway and French's parents for some buildings near Narrows.

Series III. Oversize Materials, 1881-1957, n.d. This series contains materials removed from Series I due to size.


  • 1903 - 1957


Language of Materials

The materials in the collection are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

The copyright status of this collection is unknown. Copyright restrictions may apply. Contact Special Collections and University Archives for assistance in determining the use of these materials.

Reproduction or digitization of materials for personal or research use can be requested using our reproduction/digitization form: Reproduction or digitization of materials for publication or exhibit use can be requested using our publication/exhibition form: Please contact Special Collections and University Archives ( or 540-231-6308) if you need assistance with forms or to submit a completed form.

Biographical Note

Chapman Johnston French, son of Charles D. and Annie C. Johnston French, was born August 15, 1880. He graduated from Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute (now Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University) in 1902 and soon thereafter became employed by the Norfolk & Western Railway as a civil engineer. He served for many years as resident engineer at Narrows, Virginia, where he lived with his wife Lela Lee Weatherly French. Later, the couple moved to Roanoke, where French served in the Engineering Department. He was a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and several fraternal organizations, including the Elks and the Knights of Pythias. French retired in 1950. Following Lela's death, French married Mildred Greer. Chapman J. French died at Troutdale, Virginia on July 6, 1964.


4.2 Cubic Feet (9 boxes, 1 oversize folder)


The collection contains papers of Chapman J. French, civil engineer employed by Norfolk & Western Railway from 1903 to 1950. It includes correspondence, memoranda, working notes, and specifications for projects as well as company and engineering department procedures. Also includes personal papers, largely relating to purchases for household and farm.


The collection essentially retains French's original order, arranged alphabetically by subject (sometimes by topic, sometimes by geographical area); in processing, some unsorted material was added to the arrangement. The inventory includes a partial list of those topics in each folder judged most significant by the processor, based on their prevalence or uniqueness. Many of the folders, however, contain materials relating to additional topics that are not listed.

Source of Acquisition

The first accrual of the Chapman J. French Papers (1.5 cu. ft.) was purchased by Special Collections in 2009. The papers had been part of a larger group of railroad-related materials compiled by a collector, then sold to a dealer (see "separated material" section). Additional materials from the same source were purchased later that year.

Related Archival Materials

See the Chapman J. French Diaries, Ms2010-045, also at Virginia Tech Special Collections and University Archives.

Virginia Tech Special Collections and University Archives holds several other manuscript collections and books relating to the Norfolk & Western Railway.

Rights Statement for Archival Description

The guide to the Chapman J. French Papers by Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech, is licensed under a CC0 (

Processing Information

The processing, arrangement and description of the first accrual (1.5 cu. ft.) of the Chapman J. French Papers commenced and was completed in March 2009. Processing of an additional 2.7 cu. ft. of material began in November 2009 and was completed in May 2010.

Chapman J. French Papers, 1903-1957
John M. Jackson, Archivist
2010 (CC0 1.0)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech Repository

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg Virginia 24061 US