50 Cadets, 50 Miles: Norwich University Students Learn School History On The March

Nov 6, 2015

On Thursday, 50 Norwich University cadets began a 50-mile march from the original home of the military academy in Norwich to the current campus in Northfield.

Along the way they will stop at landmarks to get history lessons on foot.

Audio for this piece will be available by approximately 11 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 6.

Wearing camouflage and carrying backpacks, the cadets started the school day with a quick history lesson from C.T. Haywood, an alumnus and unofficial historian for Norwich University.

He tells them how the nation’s first private military college was founded in 1819, right on the town common, by Norwich native Alden Partridge.

“This green was the original parade field for the American Literary and Scientific Military Academy,” Haywood explained.

A barracks once stood here. But after an 1866 fire, the school moved to Northfield, and these marchers will follow that northwestward trail, led by senior Jessica Gnacke.

"Hey, when you're walking on the side of the road you are marching in columns of two - no more than two across,” she yelled to her followers.

Norwich University cadets march through the town of Norwich, which is where the school was founded in 1819. It moved to Northfield after a fire in 1866. The students are re-tracing that route on foot, stopping at landmarks along the way of their three-day hike.
Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR

The so-called “legacy march” takes cadets past landmarks that teach them about 19th-century Vermont.  Scattered throughout small towns, the markers include, in Norwich, Alden Partridge’s grave.

Historian Haywood leads the cadets to that cemetery, where many take selfies at the tall monument to their founder.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said with a smile, "meet Captain Partridge.”

Norwich University cadets take photographs at the grave of the founder of the private military college, Alden Partridge. The cemetery is in the town of Norwich, where Partridge was born and where the college was founded before moving to Northfield.
Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR

This hike through small towns and over covered bridges is more than just an outdoor classroom. It’s also a fundraiser for the Veterans’ Place, a Northfield transition home and support center for homeless veterans. Mike Kelly, Norwich University engineering professor and retired Army colonel, said each hiker contributed $50 to the cause.

“It’s very emotional for me. Not only are they tracing the route, so to speak, but they are also supporting an organization that does an amazing amount of good to help our veterans who are suffering,” Kelly noted.

At the cemetery, Chase Hammer, a lanky first-year cadet from Wasilla, Alaska, said he feels lucky to be in the class of 2019 — the college’s bicentennial year.

“It’s such a blessing and really an honor for me to be a part of such an incredibly history-rich college. You know, they say history will repeat itself if we don’t learn from it, and so I want to learn from that history to make me a better leader in the future,” Hammer said.

"It's such a blessing and really an honor for me to be a part of such an incredibly history-rich college. You know, they say history will repeat itself if we don't learn from it, and so I want to learn from that history to make me a better leader in the future." - Chase Hammer, Norwich University first-year cadet

The march officially began with roll call.

As names are checked off trip leader, Jessica Gnacke reflected on what this three-day event means to her and her friend.

“It doesn’t matter how sore and how you miserable you feel after marching the 50 miles,” Gnacke said. “But you realize afterwards what you did, not only ... carrying on the legacy of Captain Alden Partridge but also how much you are helping other people like the Veterans’ Place.”

The marchers also gazed at the stately home of Alden Partridge, on Main Street in Norwich.

The home of Alden Partridge, founder of Norwich University, still stands on Main Street in the town of Norwich where he was born and the school was originally located.
Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR

From Norwich the hike will detour to the Justin Morrill Homestead in Strafford. They’ll stop at the iron bridge in Sharon and later receive a lecture about the cavalry from an instructor riding on horseback. They will arrive back on their Northfield campus on Saturday, and deliver the football for the final home varsity game of the season. They will also present the ceremonial check to the Veterans’ Place.