Norwich, VT, March 19, 1866

My Dear Father and Bro. Otis,

Let me say so as to set your minds at ease that I am very well indeed, eat three meals a day & do a very little work just for exercise. Allie and I are to have a diploma for washing when Mrs. S. fills it out. I am enjoying myself hugely, and I do hope you are… Shall I tell you what I find to do? Monday of last week I wrote home. Went to a very interesting prayer meeting in the eve. Tuesday the Young Ladies had a prayer meeting here after which Fred & Sallie and I went to a Mr. Hutchinson’s being invited there to meet a young lady–a Miss Walker from Thetford–beside some young people of this place. While we were having games in the evening, some after eight, Mrs. H. came in and said “Come quick and see how red the sky is” –We all ran like so many sheep. We could hear the bells ring, and they knew there was a fire on Norwich Plain. The men of our company left on the “double quick”.  When they got to the top of the hill we heard them say “it is the University!” When coming home we had a fine opportunity to see it as Fred drove around the place and to tell the truth it was awful grand! to see the fire coming out of all the windows. The fire broke out in an unoccupied room. The “South Barracks” The night was quite favorable as there was no wind and rained a little. No other buildings were burned.

Your affectionate daughter
[letter abbreviated]

Norwich University burned just after the Civil War on March 14, 1866. Enrollment had been dwindling ever since the entire class of 1862 had enlisted in the war. The fire, of undetermined origin,caused a total loss. Professor Foley described the drama. “Drums suddenly beat assembly. The cadets were told to man the buckets as there was a fire in the 4th passage. Wooden buckets were used, and they worked desperately to save the building….All the books and furniture was saved and then people stood around helplessly as the walls fell.”

It was this fire that determined the fate of the university. Northfield, Vermont, at the time a thriving railroad center, made a generous offer to establish there. Stunned by its losses, the university quickly accepted.

Letter narrated by Jeannette Davis, Hanover High School ‘24. Thank you!