Newly Acquired Papers of an Elusive Norwich President

March 18, 2016

19th century portrait of cadet

Daguerreotype of Charles H. Lewis as a Norwich University cadet, approx. 1855

There have been some exciting additions to the University Archives collections over the last year. One is the papers of Charles Hildreth Lewis, which were generously donated to us by one of his descendants. We are so grateful for the families of our past alumni, faculty, and staff for sharing these important materials with us.

Lewis was president of Norwich University in the 1880s and the namesake of Lewis College. After Lewis rescued the university from financial disaster, the trustees insisted on renaming the university in his honor.

Relatively few specifics are known about this time period, but some light was shed on Charles Lewis’ life and work after we acquired three boxes of his papers. Most of them pertain to his business ventures, emphasizing the fact that his Norwich presidency was largely ceremonial, and he remained deeply engaged in his personal enterprises. Most of the papers are over 100 years old, and when we acquired them, they showed their age! They are now preserved and available to all researchers.

Charles H. Lewis was born in Alton, ME, and died in Camden, ME. He graduated from Norwich University with the class of 1855. Following his graduation, he pursued a career in surveying and civil engineering in the west. Lewis served in the Civil War from 1861 to 1864. At various times, Lewis engaged in mining, financial affairs and real estate. Charles Lewis stepped forward to assist Norwich University with its financial troubles in 1880, in recognition of which the trustees changed the name of Norwich University to Lewis College on 31 December 1880. Lewis was made president on 21 December 1880 and held the office until 30 June 1892. On 24 October 1884, the name of the college reverted back to Norwich University. Charles Lewis married Orianna Pendleton of Belfast, ME.

The collection consists of the business papers of Charles Lewis, 1859-1936 (bulk: 1862-1904) reflecting his business interests in mining, financial affairs and real estate development. Also included is the correspondence of William Arba Ellis as he prepared his sketch of Charles Lewis for publication, 1910-1911. Obituaries, 1906, of Lewis are also available. The control file included with the collection contains a photocopy of a letter from Charles Lewis to the board of trustees, 20 December 1880, in which Lewis discusses his plans for Lewis College (Norwich University). The original of the letter is in the alumni file of Frederick E. Smith.

You can learn more about the Lewis papers by reading the collection guide on our website, or by visiting the Archives Reading Room on the 5th floor of the library to access the collection itself.

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