Staples Cupola Mystery Continues

This morning, I posted a 1913-era postcard of the original Staples High School.

It shows what I called a bell tower — a feature I’d never seen before, in any photo or painting of the brick structure built in 1884 (and torn down in 1967).

Several commenters — calling it a “cupola” — debated whether or not it existed. Some thought it was actually part of another building, in the distance.

Alert “06880” reader Neil Brickley — who grew up in Westport, loves its history, and regularly accesses the University of Connecticut photo archives, which include a fascinating 1934 aerial survey of town — found this view.

Staples aerial view 1934

Staples High School is the dark building near the center of the photo. It’s situated about where the Saugatuck Elementary School auditorium is today — just southeast of the track and athletic facilities (variously called PJ Romano Field and Doubleday Field) that are still there.

It doesn’t seem to show a cupola/bell tower/whatever. And it sure does not look like there’s any building behind it either.

However, a similar photo from a February, 1914 edition of the Westporter-Herald newspaper  — sent by another reader — shows almost exactly the same view:

Staples High School - 1914 Westporter Herald

The same reader sent along another postcard of Staples. This one is from a later date — you can tell, because there are post-1914 cars, and the plantings are fuller.

Staples High School Riverside Avenue without cupola

Perhaps the bell tower/cupola actually did exist once, but was demolished or destroyed prior to 1934.

Or perhaps this photo, and the postcard, were both embellishments.

I’m reminded of another old postcard. This one shows Compo Beach, just after the turn of the (20th) century:

Compo Beach with flying machine

None — not one — of the formally dressed beach-goers and bathers looks up at what must be a very new-fangled flying machine.

Rod Serling, where are you now that we need you?

15 responses to “Staples Cupola Mystery Continues

  1. Yes, most likely the cupola, or tower, was torn down before the 1930s. Otherwise people who were kids in the late 30s and 40s would have known it existed. I didn’t know about the cupola until about 2000 and couldn’t believe it. Cupolas are nice architectural embellishments, often with no essential use. We don’t see them much anymore , but there is still one notable one in Westport. And it’s on a school! At least it was when I was last in town.

  2. Jill Turner Odice

    And they didn’t even have Photoshop back then 🙂

  3. Maybe a bad storm/wind storm/winter storm or hurricane back then took it out or damaged it so it had to be removed. Water damage from rain/snow storm can do a number on bell towers/cupula so they took it done before it fell down.

  4. It would certainly appear that the tower had been removed by the time that the aerial shot was taken. I would imagine that it was, as so many of these towers were in the days before municipal water systems, an artful cover for the building’s water tank. The tower – and the tank hidden inside – likely became unnecessary at a certain point in time.

    With respect to the unobservant beachgoers being buzzed by the early airplane, I think it was Eve Potts who once opined that the latter was likely added to the scene – perhaps to amp up an otherwise pedestrian scene…

  5. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    I have a dolled up photo of a local bridge, originally 1940, in which a couple with their dog, a float plane, a steamship, and even a seagull have been added for the reason given above.

  6. When I attended Bedford Middle School in starting in 1959 the old Staples HS building was in use. The basement was reading lab, the first floor predominantly mechanical drawing and shop on the riverside in front. The entire southern half of the second floor was the large music room presided over by the amazing music teacher Ernistine White. The middle of the front of the building projected out a bit which could have been under a previous school bell tower, but there was no tower in the late 1950s and I don’t recall the third floor “attic” area ever bring open for classes then

    Does anyone remember ever going to the third floor where structural elements could have existed for any previously installed bell tower?

  7. Maybe we’re looking at an artist’s rendering/drawing/archetectual plan and not what was finally built or better still, the building that Staples was supposed to look like but this isn’t it – it’s another “somewhere”….

  8. There seems to be lingering doubt here. The original Staples school building DID have a cupola (tower). It’s a fact!

  9. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Who needs a cupola when ac does the trick?
    Or, perhaps a “church” belfry on a school was considered old school/bad form?

  10. Jonathan Maddock

    I think you may be wrong about the cupola in the aerial photo. I see two lighter spots representing the forward facing dormers, and in-between them a roof line that may or may not include the cupola. It’s inconclusive.

  11. I’m intrigued with the waves at Compo…perhaps a post-hurricane shore effect from the same storm which brought down the Staples tower? Never mind…getting my tongue out of my cheek.

  12. I just took a look at Page 61 of “Westport…a special place” and sure enough, the tower is in that photo, though you have to look closely because it blends into the sky. It’s an entirely different photo from the postcard (it has a crowd of people out front). I’ll bet the school records at the Historical Society mention when the tower disappeared!

    • Yep — I just saw it. (Eve is too modest to note that she wrote that book!) The photo appears to be — though it does not say so explicitly — that it’s from the dedication of the building on April 22, 1884. The tower is very definitely there.