Today, the landscape of Norwich University is characterized by many cascading stairways that help us navigate our hilly terrain. Unmistakably, the multi-landing staircase that leads from the walkway near the newly finished Mack Hall to the Upper Parade and Jackman stands not only as a daily route for foot traffic but as a monument.
But when planning got under way for the Centennial Stairway more than 100 years ago, there were no staircases leading from the bottom of the Hill to the top. So university leaders seized upon the opportunity to combine a practical need with a symbolic gesture.
Construction plans were announced in the February 1918 edition of the Norwich Record. The project quickly gained the enthusiasm of alumni, students, staff, and faculty, and by July, the university had raised approximately half of the estimated $3,000 that would be required.
To encourage participation, each donation was reported in the Record. Gifts of $50 secured the right to choose a name for a memorial step. The Class of 1905 funded a step for their classmate, Ernest Lawrence, who had recently been killed in World War I. A group of cadets tried unsuccessfully to raise funds for a step honoring Mary Gould, a local woman who was like a surrogate mother to many students.
The man behind the design was Elroy Chase, a member of the class of 1903 who found success in the granite industry. Materials were donated by Barclay Brothers, a granite firm in nearby Barre, Vt. The stairs were dedicated in 1919 during the five-day Centennial Celebration in October, as described in the Record:
While five hundred people looked on and lumps rose in many throats, three bright little lads, aged respectively 10, 7 and 4, stepped shyly forward and untied the long maroon and yellow ribbons that were stretched between two bared sabers across the top of the new centennial entrance to Norwich University that was dedicated today.
The children were Phillip, Randall and Allan Sherman, sons of Capt. Phillip V. Sherman of Burlington, the first Norwich man to die at the hands of the enemy in the World War.
After decades of harsh Vermont winters, the steps were refurbished in 1962.