George Dewey was born in Vermont’s state capital of Montpelier in 1837. He attended Norwich for two years before entering the relatively new United States Naval Academy, where he graduated in 1858. He rose to the rank of lieutenant commander during his service in the Civil War. Continuing his naval career after the war, he became a national hero when he led his fleet to victory in the Battle of Manila Bay, a key battle in the Spanish-American War. A commodore at the time, he soon became the only person ever to be promoted to the rank of Admiral of the Navy.
In October of 1899, shortly after Dewey returned to the States, the entire state of Vermont came together to welcome their native son, who had achieved not only military victory abroad, but celebrity status at home. A huge patriotic parade was held in downtown Montpelier, with the state house festooned in red, white, and blue bunting. Admiral Dewey led the parade in full dress uniform, and a fireworks display that evening capped off a day of frenzied festivities.
Dewey’s alma mater, Norwich University, was no less proud to honor the admiral. In addition to cadets marching in the Montpelier parade, during that same journey to Vermont, Dewey visited Northfield to lay the cornerstone for Dewey Hall. Ground had been broken for the building the previous spring—in fact, on May 1, the first anniversary of the Battle of Manila Bay.
The cornerstone ceremony was attended with great fanfare. Guards had to be posted to keep the crowd away from the admiral’s train car at the Northfield depot. Dignitaries in attendance included Vermont Governor Edward Smith, former Governor Paul Dillingham, and New York Senator Chauncey Depew. The cornerstone that was laid that day, inscribed “A. L. S. & M. A.” on one side and “1899” on the other, remains a part of Norwich’s oldest standing building to this day.
In years to come, May 1 would be celebrated as Dewey Day at Norwich. Cadets were given the day off and enjoyed the holiday with fishing trips and other leisurely springtime activities.
In October 1999, one hundred years after Admiral Dewey’s heroic homecoming, the city of Montpelier hosted a centennial reenactment of the original Dewey Day parade. Norwich cadets once again marched with pride to honor their cadet brother and the highest-ranking U.S. naval officer of all time.