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#108 – A Friendship Between Industrialists Gave Us Norwich Carnegie Library

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, This Week in History

General Grenville Dodge

General Grenville Dodge

When General Grenville Dodge announced at an alumni banquet in 1905 that his friend Andrew Carnegie had pledged $50,000 for a new library building, it came as a complete surprise to the University community.

Grenville Dodge became acquainted with Andrew Carnegie through the railroad business in the 1870s. Carnegie was involved in railroads before turning his attention to steel, where he made his fortune. They drifted apart over the years but ran into each other from time to time. Carnegie sold his steel company in 1901, making him one of the wealthiest men in the world, and he dedicated the latter decades of his life to philanthropy.

In March of 1905, the two acquaintances finally found an opportunity to sit down for a meal. Dodge was invited to dinner at Carnegie’s home. Dodge recounted the meeting in a speech to the New York Association of Norwich University Alumni a month later. The conversation around the table turned to Norwich and its growing needs. Without hesitation, Carnegie asked Dodge what he thought was needed most.

Dodge responded that he thought a library building and electrical equipment were most urgently required; with the construction of Alumni Hall underway funded entirely by alumni, the donor pool was wearing thin. Carnegie did some back-of-the-napkin math and offered the sum of $50,000 on the spot for the project.

He made only one request—that the building be named in honor of his friend, General Dodge. This was not the first time that Carnegie had offered a gift to a college in recognition of a friend. The previous year, in 1904, he endowed a chair in economics at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio in recognition of his friend Edwin Stanton, an alumnus of the school who had served as Lincoln’s secretary of war.

Dodge quickly pointed out the difficulty in this scheme, as the university had dedicated Dodge Hall in his honor 12 years prior. Carnegie agreed to lend his name to the facility, with Dodge noting that it would both honor his friend and bring prestige to the university.

Construction on Carnegie Library began later that year. It opened its doors in the fall of 1908 as the university’s first freestanding library.

In 1953, Carnegie Library underwent renovation, with funds donated by Henry Prescott Chaplin (1885-1962), a local businessman and a trustee of the university. It was reopened as the Henry Prescott Chaplin Library.

After several periods of renovations and expansions to accommodate a growing demand for information resources, before the opening of the Kreitzberg Lirbary in 1993. Chaplin Memorial Library became what is now known as Chaplin Hall and is the home to the School of Architecture and Art.

You can learn more about the history of the library by visiting the Norwich University Archives. Available resources include the historical records of the library dating back to the 1820s, as well as the Index to Norwich University Newspapers, which chronicles Carnegie’s gift and the library’s construction, among many other topics.

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