Rediscovering campus treasures © April 4, 2008 Norwich University Office of Communications
At the nation’s oldest private military college, it is virtually impossible to walk around the grounds or through its office and classroom buildings without passing something of historical significance. Norwich University’s nearly two centuries of distinctive history and gift legacy have created a unique problem: The University is not sure what treasures lie outside the walls of the Sullivan Museum and History Center.
As a result, Norwich is scouring campus to identify and register its historical collections and artifacts. A group of volunteers trained by Marielle Kirby, museum registrar of the Sullivan Museum and History Center, is now involved in this important task.
“I am excited to be part of this project,” Kirby said. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years.”
The volunteer group largely consists of students who are passionate about Norwich’s history. Working in pairs, they receive detailed training from Kirby. After this preparation, they venture forth, armed with a form Kirby designed, to scout for objects in hallways or on the grounds.
Kirby noted that it takes a special kind of person to do the work. Because of its history with and contribution to different branches of the military, Norwich has unique gifts from alumni and the U.S. State department. To document them thoughtfully, “we need people who are meticulous, detail-oriented, and observant,” Kirby said. “We want them to be able to describe the item and its condition in clear details.”
Deferring to the snow and ice, the volunteers began their efforts indoors. They tackle two buildings at a time and will assess progress on an ongoing basis.
In the warmer spring weather, volunteers will move outside, where they will catalog items such as the Spanish naval gun, the mortars at the south gate, cannons on the Upper Parade Ground and the Sherman tank on the football field.
Items such as cannons and mortars were placed where they are as a memorial to someone and to history.
~Major General John Greenway
The project was initiated by Major General John Greenway (USA Ret.) ’56, who is equally passionate about Norwich and historical artifacts. After spending 34 years in the army, the Norwich alumnus has moved back to Vermont from Virginia to be near his alma mater. “Norwich is in my blood,” Greenway said. “It’s been a big part of my life.”
Greenway became involved with museums while living in Virginia. Because the Army credits Norwich with being the birthplace of the ROTC program, the Army ROTC headquarters in Fort Monroe, Va., was eager to tap Norwich for help with a special collection at the Fort Monroe museum. Greenway became a liaison between Norwich and the ROTC museum. “There is a very large Norwich presence in the museum,” Greenway said.
Greenway also served on the Norwich University Board of Fellows for six years. He was involved with the conception and creation of the Sullivan Museum. Now vice president of the Museum Associates, he initiated Norwich’s project to document and catalog all its artifacts and has joined the volunteer team.
“Maj. Gen. Greenway is just the right man for this important task,” President Richard W. Schneider said. “He is dedicated and detail-oriented. He knows a lot about the University’s history and the importance of properly cataloging all of our collection, both inside and outside the museum walls.”
Kirby couldn’t agree more. “General Greenway has been a mover and shaker of this project. He has great organizational skills.”
Although Greenway is concerned about all Norwich’s artifacts, the pieces outdoors fired his passion for the project. “The conditions of some of them are disgraceful,” he said.
“Items such as cannons and mortars were placed where they are as a memorial to someone and to history,” Greenway said. As a retired soldier, he believes their condition sends a message to the community. “I want to be proud of the exterior exhibits and keep up on the restoration.”
Greenway’s plans include fundraising for restoration. Kirby notes that documenting the objects will allow the University to better assess such next steps. “Once we develop an inventory, we can assess the priority for treatment and restoration of the artifacts,” she said.
The volunteers aim to complete their initial identification by the fall of 2008. Next, the University will develop a long-term plan for the care of artifacts and will begin restoration efforts. Kirby also will engage a group of volunteers to start historical research.
President Schneider envisions summarizing these findings in a pamphlet. “That way, we can have properly documented walking tours of campus,” Schneider said. “I want the whole campus to be an extension of the Sullivan Museum.”