Unearthing Time Capsules, Wherever They Are

Different things keep different people up at night.

Dave Kokoszka recently wrote:

Something has puzzled me for a long time. When I was in 1st grade, a capsule was buried at Greens Farms Elementary School. We all made drawings that were buried in a ceremony on the front lawn. Might have been 1976. It seems that the whole grounds in the front of the school have changed.

Yes and yes. It was 1976, and the front of the school has indeed changed. State laws now mandate separate different loops for buses and cars. And you thought government just didn’t care!

The bicentennial time capsule seems to have gone the way of most others: buried with great fanfare, then forgotten half an hour later.

The Green’s Farms Elementary School time capsule could be buried anywhere.

Artifacts buried in cornerstones fare a bit better.

One of the most famous cornerstones in Westport was laid on April 22, 1884. It was the dedication of “Horace Staples’ High School” on Riverside Avenue. A crowd of 2,500 showed up; even Connecticut Governor Thomas Waller was there.

Among the contents deposited in a copper box: the names of all Westport public and private school teachers; a Bible; an 1884 silver dollar; newspapers and almanacs; a list of Westport fire companies; information from the 17th Regiment, which had gathered in Fairfield the year before to recollect their Civil War engagements; the names of the architects and workmen involved in the construction of the high school; an 1860 dollar bill from Horace Staples’ bank, and a biographical sketch of the school’s founding.

The box was lowered. A “colored workman” from Easton spread cement. A minister proclaimed: “I lay the cornerstone of an edifice to be erected by the name of ‘Staples High School,’ to be devoted to the promotion of sound learning and Christian education.”

And there the stone lay, for 83 years.

The original Staples High School. The cornerstone was in there somewhere.

In the fall of 1967, Staples Hall – the original brick building, by then decrepit, rat-infested and overshadowed by the “modern” Bedford Junior High School (now Saugatuck Elementary) — was slated for demolition.

The occasion drew a small crowd — including Frank Osborne, a graduate of Staples’ Class of 1894 (and still a Westport resident).

During the wrecking operation, the cornerstone was recovered. The old copper box and its contents of 30 items were given to First Selectman Herbert E. Baldwin.

The lintel from the original Staples High School building — and the cornerstone — were among the few items salvaged during the 1967 demolition on Riverside Avenue.

Plans were to eventually hand the box to trustees of the Horace Staples estate. “There is hope that it can be opened publicly with some trace of the ceremony with which it was laid in the corner almost 100 years ago,” the Town Crier reported.

That did not happen. Instead, the cornerstone was stuffed into the back of Staples’ main office safe on North Avenue. In 1976, a Staples class used it during their study of the American bicentennial.

Yes, the same bicentennial celebration during which a group of Green’s Farms Elementary School students buried a time capsule. Unlike Staples, it is now lost to history.

Postscript: The Westport Historical Society gained possession of the Staples box (minus a few items) in the late 1970s. That cornerstone – along with the lintel now on display at the North Avenue entrance, some souvenir bricks, a clock in Sherman Betts’ home, and fading memories of longtime Westporters – are all that remain of the building that, for over eight decades, was Staples High School.

One response to “Unearthing Time Capsules, Wherever They Are

  1. I remember the time capsule at Greens Farms El in 1976, as well. It was buried in the front lawn. All the classes/grades were asked to participate in drawings (I think that I was in maybe 3rd grade & our class drew pictures of ourselves and described our lives. We all mused how fun it would be for people 100 years later to see how we lived). There was a crane that dug a deep hole and quite a bit of ceremony around the time capsule being buried. I’ve told people about it over the years, only to wonder if anyone else remembered it, as well:)