2018-03-08 / Features

I Remember

The Cabal that Saved Norwich University (Part Twenty - The Aftermath)
Peter Young

Good day kind readers. Did you attend Town Meeting? Would you agree it’s just not the same as it used to be back in the day as us old folks like to say? Do you remember those long, long meetings? The same gadflies speaking on every article? Those homemade lunches prepared by the women of the various service clubs? The passing around of the audience microphone that sometimes worked but often did not? The “point of order” shouts at the moderator? The paper ballot process that took an hour to vote on one article? Hmmm. Yes, the good old days of yore. Thank you, Australian ballet system.
Speaking about the good old days of yore, we have been discussing these last many weeks the shenanigans of a cartel of Northfield town fathers that kept the college on the hill from becoming something other than the college on the hill.  As you may remember, three of the five members of the cabal that saved Norwich acquired the campus at a public sale for ten dollars back in 1899. In 1891 they deeded the university back to Norwich. That conveyance contained a restriction that prohibited the trustees from ever mortgaging the school in the future. If they did, ownership of the property would revert back to the three of them or to whomever the three of them had designated should become the owner. They knew that they might not be around if Norwich ever mortgaged the school in the distant future, so they conveyed their rights to re-acquire the school to the town of Northfield. Keep it in the family, so to speak. 
Fast forward to 2007. A title searcher in connection with a Norwich financing discovered the 1891 deed which contained the mortgage prohibition. Oh-oh. It’s interesting to note here that this wasn’t the first mortgage financing by the school since the 1891 deed in question was recorded in the land records. No. There were many others over the years-mortgage financings for new dormitories, academic buildings, athletic facilities and so on. Yet, either the prohibition in the land records was missed or it was disregarded. 
    In any event, it raised its head in 2007. What to do? Was Perley’s Curse still haunting the university after all these years?  Bummer. The school’s attorneys decided to go to court and fix the problem once and for all. They reopened the estates of two of the three purchasers of the school back in 1899 (Frank Plumley and George Nichols), who had long been deceased and asked the probate court to declare that the conditional language in that 1891 deed that prohibited Norwich from ever mortgaging the school in the future didn’t really mean what it said. No. They argued those words were only aspirational. What Plumley, Nichols and Egerton really meant to say in the 1891 deed back to Norwich was they “hoped” the school would never, ever mortgage the property. Really?  And the judge agreed.  Case closed? 
Maybe or maybe no. The court proceeding only affected the estates of Plumley and Nichols. What about the estate of Egerton? It was not made a party to the case for some reason and therefore is not bound by the decision. And more important, what about the town of Northfield? As indicated, Plumley, Egerton and Nichols conveyed their rights of reverter to the town on the same day that they conveyed the campus back to Norwich. Therefore, neither them (Plumley and Nichols) or their estates (as well as Egerton and his estate) had any interest left in the campus even if Norwich violated the terms of their deed and mortgaged the property. That would mean that reopening the estates of Nichols and Plumley was unnecessary and did not accomplish anything. 
Perley’s curse survives? Does the town of Northfield own the original campus area of Norwich University? Could it be? Another “Hmmm.”  Notwithstanding the answer to that question  a simple fix is available. It would save the expense of a court battle that I assume no one wants. A quitclaim deed from the Queen Town on the Dog to Norwich University would inexpensively resolve this issue. Perley’s Curse would then truly become just an interesting sidebar in the history of Norwich and its host town. We could then all say “Rest in peace” Perley Belknap. Thank you for your service. Sorry about the money we owed you, but you know, things were tight.”
And here’s one for the ages. Perley Belknap, Man o’ Steel and the great harasser of the university served as a Norwich trustee for thirteen years from 1866 until 1879. His term even included one year after he became the owner of the campus in 1878. I can imagine his opening remarks during the 1878-1879 board meetings: “Thank you all for joining me today at my Jackman Hall office. You want your school back, then SHOW ME THE MONEY!”

Hello folks. Peter Young’s latest book, “Tales from the Dog (And More)” is available locally at the Northfield Pharmacy, Shear Edge hair salon and the Northfield Historical Society as well on amazon.com and Kindle. It’s a collection of short stories about Northfield and its college on the hill with a ton of vintage photos of times and people past. Take a gander and try it!  
And don’t forget Peter’s book “Flatlander and the Rise and Fall of Mike and the Ravens” which received the 2016 silver/second place prize from the Feathered Quill Book Awards Program in the best humor category and is also available locally as described above and Bear Pond Books in Montpelier.  It can also be purchased on the Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kindle web site

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