Hamilton history: Cannons, sundial, chair, oh my!

By Molly Geisinger ’19

Tags features

After driving up scenic College Hill Road and taking a right to the Office of Admissions, the first thing to catch the eye may be the perplexing collection of objects out front. Though not the most typical selection of welcoming items, only history can explain how a stone chair, two cannons and a sundial have found their way to the front lawn of the Chet and Joy Siuda House. 

Elihu Root, who graduated from Hamilton College in 1864 as valedictorian, later went on to join President William McKinley’s cabinet during the aftermath of the Spanish-American War. As a long time trustee of the College, Root donated two captured Spanish cannons in 1898, testaments to his assistance in establishing the American empire in the Caribbean and the Pacific. 

The two cannons were originally bronze, but corrosion has contributed to their teal appearance since their arrival. Inscribed on each cannon are the dates “Seville 16 de Octubre de 1828” and “Seville 20 de Mayo de 1806,” along with the names Hipsenor and Luis Collado. The two cannons came to Hamilton all the way from Santiago de Cuba supposedly around the end of the 19th century, and it is unknown why they have been engraved.

Before the cannons arrived on Hamilton campus, they were originally cast at the Royal Cannon Foundry of Seville. At first they were heavy field guns, which were to be towed by eight horses on two-wheeled carriages. However, in about 1862, they were rifled to accept elongated shells, for the purpose of improving accuracy and range, a meager improvement according to today’s standards. 

Since their arrival, they were mounted at each side of the flagstaff, noted in an entry in the Hamilton Literary Magazine from April 1900. Though the cannons have, supposedly, stayed in this location for over two centuries, they were unmounted on occasion at least once. 

Half-Century Annalist Letters—a tradition that began in 1865—reminisce about classmates, the College and faculty from 50 years earlier. According to the Class of 1906 Letter, delivered by Reverend Alexander Thompson in 1956, sophomores and first-year students heaved one of the cannons down the Hill and across the bridge to the house of Professor Henry Ibbotson, known as “Dib.” The underclassmen brought the cannon right up to his front door, rang the doorbell, and upon seeing the muzzle of the cannon, Dib “threw up his hands and cried, ‘My God, gentlemen.’”

Sitting between both cannons is a stone armchair, marked with the date 1882. According to tradition, most graduating class members give an object and plant a tree, both of which are situated in close proximity to each other. In an old photo, given to the College in 1961 but taken by a member of the class of 1909, the chair sits alongside a sapling. Though no records indicate when or why the chair was relocated to the front of the Admissions Office, past entries demonstrate that various statues have been moved due to their obstruction of lawnmowing routes. 

Finally, the sundial’s history tends to be equally as evasive as the chair’s in regards to its origin and placement. The sundial similarly bears the marking of a year, 1870, which indicates that it was a class gift as well. In vintage photos of the Hamilton campus, it has been spotted next to a newly-planted tree in an undefined location. However, in later photos, the sundial appears at the foot of the flagpole, joining both the chair and the cannons and a nearby flag from the ’60s—’70s which is inscribed with the words “Black Power.” 

The chair’s and the sundial’s histories tend to remain relatively vague. Though it seems random that they should be placed directly in front of the Admissions Office, there may be justification for their placement. As each of the objects marks a manifestation of class pride, they can serve as ideas for future graduating classes of the endless options for gifts, as well as an assurance of any gift’s longevity.

All Features