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#171 Looking Back at the Centennial Celebration

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, This Week in History

Centennial Celebration in 1919

For the last four years, Norwich University has been preparing to celebrate the bicentennial of its founding in 2019. Ninety-nine years ago this month, the Norwich community came together for a five-day celebration marking the 1919 centennial of Captain Alden Partridge’s American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy. The festivities were attended by prominent alumni, former presidents, presidents of other esteemed universities, and government dignitaries, as well as the Corps of Cadets and Norwich’s beloved alumni.

Partridge’s Academy was founded in Norwich, Vt., and it’s worth noting that while the first bricks were laid in August of 1819, no students were enrolled or classes taught until 1820. In fact, there is evidence that during his lifetime, Captain Partridge considered 1820 his founding date. But based on the scale of the 1919 centennial celebration, it’s clear that the 1819 founding date has been canonical for several generations.

The five days of the centennial celebrations were divided into themes. The festivities kicked off on Friday, October 10, 1919, with Alumni Day, featuring the formal opening of the new cavalry stables, a review of the squadron by Governor Percival Clement, and an alumni banquet. Saturday was Undergraduates’ Day and included morning drills and an afternoon football game against New Hampshire State College, followed by a dance in the armory.

On Sunday, October 12, a solemn Memorial Day was observed. The Corps of Cadets led a procession to Elmwood and Mount Hope cemeteries, where they paid tribute to former officials and alumni of the university. Later that afternoon, the university chaplain presided over a memorial service. Less than a year had passed since the signing of the Armistice, and many fallen heroes were doubtless on the hearts and minds of the university community.

Monday was Founders’ Day, and the festivities were centered around the university’s founding location—and Alden Partridge’s hometown—of Norwich, Vt. Revelers gathered at 8:00 AM to make the pilgrimage south to Norwich, where they shared a luncheon and observed the ceremonial unveiling of a memorial monument in the town. In the exercises held on the parade ground of “Old Norwich,” there were speeches by Rear Admiral George Partridge Colvocoresses ‘66, President Emeritus Charles Spooner, and Dr. John Lord of Dartmouth College, as well as a parade marshaled by Medal of Honor recipient Colonel Hiram Bearss ’98. The party then processed to the cemetery and paid tribute to the Norwich dead who rest there, including Captain Alden Partridge and our second president, Colonel Truman Ransom. Back in Northfield, the fraternities and the Commons Club held open houses that evening.

Dedication of the Centennial Stairs

The weekend’s festivities culminated on “Centennial Day,” Tuesday, October 14, 1919. The centerpiece of the day was the dedication of the Centennial Stairs. In a moving ceremony, the ribbons over the stairs were untied by the three young children of Captain Phillip Sherman ’07, who was killed in the 1918 sinking of the Tuscania. The 40 names carved on the granite steps paid tribute to beloved and loyal supporters of the university—support that has allowed it to thrive for another 100 years.

Here on the Hill, things are winding down after an exciting Homecoming celebration. We hope you are all looking forward to observing our bicentennial with as much excitement and ceremony as was on display for our centennial in 1919.