This Place in History: Norwich University

Vermont Historical Society

NORTHFIELD, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History‘, we’re in Northfield, Vt. at Norwich University with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We are on the campus of beautiful Norwich University in Northfield. It’s America’s first private military college and so we’re going to learn about that and also the interesting geographical question of why Norwich university is in Northfield, Vermont. John Hart, the Director of the Sullivan Museum here on campus, is going to meet us and show us around and give us a tour,” explained Perkins.

“In the spring of 1866, as is the case in much of Vermont, Norwich was heating the building with wood stoves. The belief is that an ember from the wood stove kicked up and burned the building to the ground. There was nothing left of the original school. At the same time, generally, the railroad had left Northfield. So, the town was trying to find something to bring in to help stabilize the economy. And the university was in financial trouble. It didn’t have the funding to rebuild. The town offered to lob off the top of a hill, create the upper parade ground and then provide the first building. It grew and grew and grew over the next 200 years now,” explained Hart.

“The university was originally in Norwich, right on the Town Green. It’s actually where the Norwich School sits today. The plot for the academy and later the university is right there in the center.”

“Norwich University was founded as the American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy in 1819 and it was chartered in the 1830s and renamed Norwich University,” added Hart.

“Now we talk about Norwich University being the oldest private military college in the United States. What does that mean? Because I’ve heard we’ve got cadets here, but also civilian students. How does that work?” asked Perkins.

“The 1970s is when we brought in civilian students, when Norwich acquired Vermont College, at the time. We are a private school. We’re not federally funded in the same way that say West Point or Annapolis or even Air Force Academy are. A lot of other schools that Captain Partridge founded don’t exist anymore. They failed either within a few decades or later into the 20th Century. But we remain, which is really amazing,” answered Hart.

“I think a lot of [the staying power] is the model of education that Captain Partridge set up, which has never changed. We are still a hands-on center for learning. We really hone in on that with engineering and nursing, even cybersecurity, which may not have been anything that Partridge could have ever conceived.”

“But, it’s that practical real world experience that our students can get while here that sets them up really successfully for the future after they graduate, whether they go into civilian life or into the military and take those skills, applying them elsewhere down the path,” said Hart.

“[The Sullivan Museum] is absolutely open to the public. We are open Monday to Friday, 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. and then during the academic year, so generally September to May, and on Saturdays from 11 A.M. to 4 P.M. It’s free and open to the public. There’s signage coming into campus that’s really easy to find,” concluded Hart.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s historic site markers, click here.

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