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#50 Memories of Dewey Hall

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, Fun Facts & Stats

By Martin Suydam ‘65

50-Dewey-Hall-approx-1917The cornerstone of Dewey Hall, named after Norwich University cadet and hero of Manila Bay Admiral George Dewey, was laid on September 14, 1899.

The building was completed in 1902 and was the third building on the campus. It housed administrative offices, an assembly hall, the library and museum, the chapel, and space for the U.S. Weather Bureau. The original structure had a distinctive sloped roof and dormer architecture. A fire in 1925 destroyed the third level. When the building was rebuilt, a full third floor was added with a flat roof.

While I was a cadet in the 1960s, Dewey was the administration building, housing the president, commandant, and many of the university’s operational support staff. As the cadet regimental commander my senior year, I spent the first hour of every day in Dewey with the commandant and deputy commandant, reviewing issues and actions of the Corps for the day. Their offices were on the first floor facing the parade ground and had large windows with a view of everything on “The Hill.”

The backside of Dewey Hall was a focus of activity, where the mast indicated uniform of day. It also housed the Officer of Day (OD) room, where the OD could view the parade and cadets doing disciplinary tours. It is where the Commandant stood with hands behind his back, looking out his large window.

50-Dewey-Hall-1951Cadets rarely entered the areas of the second and third floors that housed President Harmon’s offices and the boardroom. Cadets rarely saw General Harmon, other than to see him at official ceremonies or when he appeared in the “Crows’ Nest” in the dining hall.

On one occasion, I sat with General Harmon and Lieutenant Colonel Rodgers Gregory in Harmon’s office, for a rambling discussion as they reminisced about the days of WWII. As someone who was about to begin my Army career, one part of that conversation was indelible. It was when Harmon said to Gregory, “Greg, you know one thing about being in the Army, no matter how bad things get, it will change. You’ll either be reassigned, or the son-of-a-bitch will get killed.” Another comment was “…you know, this modern Army has too damn much paperwork. In our day we just did it and someone would write about it later.”

What nearly no cadet knew of was the existence of a basement. During the summer of 1963, I was a Resident Assistant (RA) for summer school. One day, another RA and I decided to go down into the Dewey basement. It was dark and dusty, and had boarded up areas that looked as though they had not been visited since the building was erected. After we pried open one of the doors, we were amazed to discover stacks of boxes with hundreds of mint condition copies of the three-volume Norwich history that had likely been there since they were published in 1911.

Although certain we would be disciplined for “trespassing,” we decided it was best to report the discovery to the Colonel Gregory. Fortunately, we were lucky when the value of the find overwhelmed any transgression we had committed. The discovery led to a renewed interest in Norwich history, and in 1965, the new History of Norwich University was published with the same maroon and gold binding as the books we discovered.