slate river ramblings . . . .

Buckingham County: Earthquakes

Quarrymen at “The Big Quarry,” beside Hunts Creek and next to the old railroad station.

Courtesy Robert Jeffery

In 1913, Richmond’s The Times-Dispatch reported that Buckingham County had been trembling for over a century. A correspondent at Arvonia wrote the following:

That the slate belt of Buckingham County is an earthquake centre and has many times within the past century experienced severe earthquake shocks is the subject of an interesting pamphlet which recently has been published by Dr. Stephen Taber, of the University of South Carolina, under the title, “Earthquakes in Buckingham County, Virginia.”

This pamphlet was written by Dr. Taber after a thorough study of the geology of Buckingham County. He first came to the county to study the gold mines, but later turned his attention to the slate field and its remarkable connection with the earthquakes. The results of Dr. Tabor’s studies were published in Volume III of “The Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.”

The article went on to say that the earliest quake recorded in the northeastern part of Buckingham was on August 22, 1802. Tremors were felt as far away as Richmond. The severest earthquake in Virginia during the 19th century occurred in 1833; its “axis” was in Buckingham County near the slate belts. During this quake, fences were shaken down and “gas was liberated from subterranean caverns in Bath County, near the present Hot Springs.”

A third earthquake was recorded in September of 1852; its epicenter was also apparently in Buckingham County.

During 1875, there were several earthquakes, all originating in Buckingham’s slate belt. The quake on December 22, at 1875 was particularly intense. Shocks were felt over an area covering about 50,000 square miles, including Farmville, Richmond, Norfolk, and Fort Monroe; Baltimore, MD; and Greensboro, NC.

The article goes on to mention quakes in 1879, 1907, 1910, and 1912. From Arvonia, Rev. Plummer F. Jones, an official weather observer, commented on the August 7, 1912 earthquake. The intensity was about IV on the Rossi-Forel scale and was quite severe at New Canton and at Bremo Bluff, in Fluvanna County.

The newspaper article continued:

Dr. Taber states that these earthquake shocks are the result of faults in the Ordovician slate belt, which runs through northeastern Buckingham County into Fluvanna as far north as Palmyra. Displacements are caused by strains and settlements, as a result of slow crustal movements. The strength of the slates, being less than that of the older rocks of the area, are also a factor in the location of the displacements.

Dr. Tabor states that earthquakes may be expected of this region in the future from time to time, though most of the shocks will likely be of feeble intensity.

It is not thought that the working of many quarries of the slate belt of Buckingham and Fluvanna has anything to do with the earthquakes in any way, the origin of the slips and fractures being far beneath the surface of the earth.

Click here for more about the Earthquake of 1852.