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As the Norwich community begins another semester, it’s worthwhile to remember a time when the Norwich community came together to perform more than what was expected of them. In the aftermath of Vermont’s 1927 flood, the University’s staff and cadets were mobilized to help the town of Northfield cope and rebuild from the devastation.
Northfield after the flood had subsided. Described by photographer Roger Sherman, Class of 1928, as "Cadets paddling down 'Water St' "
Accounts of the action first appeared in the Guidon about a week after the flood and described cadets returning sodden and exhausted from speed-building earth works and dikes to slow the flood, even to the point of having to be undressed and carried to warm showers by their well-rested companions. Groups of cadets were also formed to patrol through the night to guard Northfield’s stores from theft. After the rains stopped, the daunting work of reconstruction began.
A forgotten vulnerability of central Vermont’s infrastructure was that this disaster extinguished communication. For a time, news slowed to the speed of a traveler on horseback. After broken and washed out bridges halted train and auto travel, cadets Paul Amoroso and Albion Beveridge helped Northfield's postmaster deliver mail to Montpelier by horseback. Meanwhile, Norwich sent other mounted details to provide relief to nearby Moretown, bringing them supplies of yeast, flour, sugar, and salt.
A group of cadets and Northfield residents, photographed in downtown Northfield immediately before setting out to deliver mail to Montpelier on horseback as part of the response to the Flood of 1927
Back on campus, five students formed a company in the basement of Carnegie Hall (now called Chaplin Hall) to send over 300 radio messages to stations in Massachusetts in order to counter the wild rumors flying about that central Vermont had “been practically washed away by the waters.” A Norwich English professor oversaw and copy-edited the missives for efficiency of language.
Thankfully, Norwich’s efforts were echoed by many others such as Dartmouth College, who sent 900 students to help dig out the worst-hit Vermont towns. The student volunteers were able to help without any harm to themselves, even as cadets on horseback waded through two-foot deep mires and “wagered their lives against their ability” to reach Montpelier and Barre. The Guidon put it this way: “The flood came near enough to the Hill to effect the cadets with the seriousness of the situation but still remained far enough away so that none of the students suffered any loss or injury.” Such history is a reminder of yet another time when Norwich stepped up to serve its community.