George Lansell worked for Norwich University as a custodian and grounds keeper from 1925 until he retired in the mid-1960s, the longest-serving employee at the time. He was born in Tunbridge Wells, England, in 1886, and came to Vermont with his new bride, Edith, in 1910.
In 1925, he and his family moved to Northfield with the promise of employment at Norwich University. He was assigned janitorial duties at Dewey Hall and Edith worked at the old Ainsworth Infirmary. Lansell’s trade as a gardener in England caught the attention of the maintenance department, and eventually, he devoted more time to grounds keeping on campus than custodial work. He planted much of the English ivy that adorns Norwich buildings, and the flower crab trees that grace the lower campus.
A talented photographer, Lansell took more than one hundred photographs of events, people and places on the Norwich campus, and developed them in his own dark room (many of them as postcards, which he sold to the students and staff). He used a Rochester Bellows camera from approximately 1898, also known as a “postcard camera.” The large format allowed him to photograph scenes at interesting angles from the tops of mountains and buildings.
He tinted his black and white photos with oil paint in a process that pre-dated color photography, and provided this service to the cadets who brought him photos of girlfriends to color at a cost of $2.00 per picture. He often commented that he put his son and daughter through college with the money he made from coloring photographs.
Lansell was an avid reader and with only eight years of formal education, was able to accomplish the study required to become a U.S. citizen in 1926. He placed a high value on education, and was proud of his affiliation with Norwich University and the fact that his employment there helped his grandson obtain an engineering degree in 1959.
Lansell’s collection of photographic negatives, now housed in the Norwich University Archives, reveals the tremendous changes that Norwich underwent from 1925 through the mid-1960s. What remains unchanged is the beauty of the campus and the pride that our employees take in keeping it beautiful.
Adapted from the work of Bonnie McShane, granddaughter of George Lansell.