If you’re seeking nominees for best Hollywood-movie moment in UVM history, allow me to suggest June 25, 1836.
On that evening nearly 1,600 candles alight in the windows of Old Mill welcomed Professor Joseph Torrey as his boat steamed into Burlington Harbor. The students who lit them (alerted to the arrival by the steamboat captain’s firing of a cannon across the water of Lake Champlain) were gutsy, given that the newish Old Mill replaced the former “College Edifice,” destroyed by fire a dozen years earlier. Their relative recklessness was inspired not so much by the joy of seeing Torrey, but rather the books and “philosophical apparatus” he had in tow. Sent by President John Wheeler on a year-long mission to Europe, Torrey brought back a library’s worth of books. As an instructional collection, UVM’s was said to rival Harvard’s at the time.
Though the Ira Allen Chapel and Pomeroy Hall towers have been illuminated for years, the Old Mill has long loomed up there in the darkness. Never quite seemed fitting for the building at the academic heart of the university and the structure on the university’s logo. That changed a few weeks ago when the lights came on in the Old Mill tower, a quietly meaningful addition to the Burlington night skyline, as a few energy efficient lightbulbs hearken back to that glow of 1,600 candles 176 years ago.