The 1927 flood is considered the greatest natural disaster in Vermont history, rivaled only by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. Three days of devastating rain from November 2 to 4 led to the loss of 84 lives and significant destruction of the state’s infrastructure. As they have so often, the cadets of Norwich University rose to the occasion.
Almost immediately as the Dog River began rising—its high point would be 15 feet above average—the Corps of Cadets flew into relief and rescue efforts. University-wide, it was all hands on deck, from fraternity house mothers pouring coffee for tired workers, to engineers surveying the damage to roads and power lines, to cadets loading trucks with sand and rocks to shore up buildings and bridges.
The damage was ultimately minimal compared to that suffered in nearby Montpelier and Barre, though property loss was estimated at $300,000 (over $4 million in today’s terms). You can read detailed accounts of the flood’s impact on Northfield and how the Norwich cadets answered the call of duty in issues of the Record and Guidon released shortly after the flood.
Meanwhile, the university had suffered its own impacts. The campus itself was drenched with rain but spared from any serious damage by its hilltop location. But the cadets had abandoned their studies for several days in order to provide relief to the town, and there was talk of when to make up the lost classroom time. It became difficult to transport food and other supplies to Norwich through the waterlogged state.
Rumors also circulated that there would be no Thanksgiving break—the train to White River Junction, which many cadets needed to return home to points south, was out of service while 800 men descended on Central Vermont to repair the railroads. President Plumley assured the students that, assuming the roads were safe, he would charter buses and cars in order to transport them to working rail lines (some cadets who lived nearby wound up simply hiking home).
Life at Norwich more or less returned to normal as Vermont communities started on the long road to reconstruction. The people of Northfield surely never forgot the heroic cadets who worked so hard to keep them safe on those dark and stormy nights.