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#180 The Story of the Alden Partridge Lithograph

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, This Week in History

In addition to depicting our founder, this unique color lithograph is an important artistic representation of our university’s historic campus in Norwich, Vt.—even if it did include some artistic license. The lithographic plate was designed to illustrate a two-page biographical sketch of the captain that appeared in the U.S. Military Magazine in May of 1842.

At the time the Partridge print appeared, the art of lithography had been practiced for only about two decades in the United States. It was a process that involved drawing an image with a greasy crayon on a flat stone. The stone was inked and impressions were made on paper in the printing process as the stone was run through a press.

By 1842, when this lithograph appeared in print, Partridge was well known nationally for his achievements as an educational reformer and for his expertise in military affairs. Captain Partridge had acted as superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy from 1808 to 1817 and in 1819 he founded the American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy (reorganized as Norwich University in 1834) at Norwich, Vt. The Vermont institution, with its distinctive combination of military training with an academic program that was more practical and scientific, provided a model that was widely adopted by schools elsewhere.

The campus scene that constitutes the background of the Partridge portrait offers the viewer a rough draft of the two principal buildings of Norwich University. These structures were located on a five-acre plot which was surrounded by an eight-foot high enclosure. Access to the compound was through a gate flanked by two guardhouses. The South Barracks (shown on the right), an unpretentious but impressive building, was the larger of the two structures. The four-story brick structure, completed in 1820, was one of the largest education buildings in Vermont. It contained 42 student rooms, two recitation rooms, a lecture hall and an armory. The three-story brick edifice called the North Barracks (1831-32) had a pitched roof and a square stair tower at the south end. The building contained a common room, recitation rooms, faculty offices and student quarters.

The paved platform with balustrade that Partridge is shown standing on adjacent to the parade ground did not actually exist; it is artistic license to improve the composition of the scene. Otherwise, the portrait is realistic. The distinctive officer’s sword Partridge is holding is almost certainly the same sword that belonged to the captain and that is now held by the Sullivan Museum and History Center.

A picture is, proverbially, worth a thousand words. With much remaining unknown about our enigmatic founder, this impressive image certainly speaks volumes about his reputation and stature during his lifetime.

Adapted from an article by Professor Emeritus Gary T. Lord that appeared in the spring 1996 issue of the Norwich Record.