Rolling Over Horace Staples’ Grave

He was the richest man in Westport. He founded a school that bears his name.

Now — 120 years after his death, at age 96 — Horace Staples lies forgotten. His gravestone sits, broken and overgrown, in one of Westport’s oldest cemeteries.

But it won’t be that way for long. At least, not if one teacher at Staples High School has her way.

Jeanne Stevens is an AP US History teacher, and amateur genealogist. This winter, as she planned Founders Day — the school’s revival of a long-dead tradition honoring Horace Staples on his birthday — she found old photos of his grave, in the Greens Farms Church’s lower cemetery.

A few days later, she and social studies department secretary Fran Evan headed off to the cemetery, at the corner of Greens Farms Road and the Sherwood Island Connector.

They found the Staples family obelisk. It was cracked, and propped up.

The Staples family obelisk. The base is heavily damaged.

They were even more horrified at the condition of the graves.

Horace Staples’ stone was broken. Half of it lay on the ground, overgrown with weeds and brush.

The broken gravestone of the founder of Staples High School.

Other relatives were in even worse condition.

Stevens asked Peter Jennings — the Greens Farms Church official who oversees the cemetery — for permission to help restore the plot. He agreed.

Soon, Stevens and Jennings met Jim Bria — a monument and grave restorer who owns Artista of Bridgeport — at the cemetery. He knew immediately which quarry the stone came from. Stevens was encouraged.

Bria and his assistant searched for other Staples gravestones. Charrey Couch — Staples’ 2nd wife — and his son Capt. William Cowper Staples were nearby. His daughter Mary Eliza Staples’ stone was buried, and broken into 5 pieces.

Mary Eliza Staples’ grave is broken into several pieces.

The headstone of Eliza Ann Hull — Staples’ 1st wife — is still lost.

Fixing the graves is quite a project. They must be cleaned, pieced together, reinforced and re-sunk. The obelisk must be re-set by crane.

Horace Staples

The cost is $10,000. (By comparison, Wilbur Cross — Horace Staples’ 2nd principal — was paid $700 for the year. Of course, that year was 1885.)

Stevens hopes the Staples High School class of 2017 can contribute some funds, if money is left after prom and graduation. She’s also reached out to fellow teachers.

But it would be great if others — Staples graduates, current students and parents, anyone else with any connection to the high school — could help restore the family plot of the man who founded it.

Without Horace Staples, we might not be here at all.

(A special account has been set up. Checks made out to “Staples High School” — with “Cemetery” on the memo line — can be sent to Mari Carroll, c/o Staples High School, 70 North Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.)

The broken grave of Horace Staples’ son, Capt. William Cowper Staples. (Photos/Jeanne Stevens)

12 responses to “Rolling Over Horace Staples’ Grave

  1. Amee Borys

    What a wonderful way to honor the founder of Staples High School and to teach the importance of historic restoration.

  2. Becki Whittington

    What a great project. But what is sad is that the graves were not taken care of; I wonder how many other grave sites are damaged. The church probably cannot take care of all of this but what a tragedy if Westport can’t take care of its ancestors.

  3. Cathy Nazzaro Romano

    Yes, this is a wonderful project. I will send a check. Staples class of 1960

  4. A suggestion would be to get a crowd funding campaign going for any others who wish to donate like http://www.gofundme.com.

  5. Thank you, Dan, for highlighting the work needed to give Horace and the Staples family the respect they deserve. And thanks to Jeanne, for getting the ball rolling. Green’s Farms Church is honoring another pair of residents of our Colonial Cemetery this weekend – the Reverend Hezekiah Ripley and his wife, Dolly. They led our church from 1767-1821 and are buried where they grazed cattle during their 54 year tenure. We will celebrate communion with silverware Rev. Ripley used, which was saved from destruction during the Revolutionary War by a deacon, Ebenezer Jesup and his wife Abigail, who hid it in a well when the British showed up to burn the Meetinghouse and surrounding homes.

  6. Mary Cookman Schmerker

    I’m not sure how people are chosen to organize class reunions but my class ’58, will celebrate it’s 60th reunion next year. Perhaps funding could be publicized through the different class reunions. Go fund me is a good idea also.

    • Thanks, Mary — great idea re reunions. As for how people are “chosen” to organize them — they’re not. They step up and volunteer!

  7. Jacques Voris

    If it is possible, could Jeanne contact me? I have some additional history/genealogy information she may like

  8. Kathie Bennewitz

    This is such a wonderful thing to do for the town and Horace’s legacy, plus the historic cemetery itself. I am so impressed by how the Social Studies Dept. and the Rho Kappa honor society re established Founder’s Day at Staples and are now integrating community service and fundraising projects into the mix.

  9. june vreeland- maier

    Has anyone traced his descendants to see if any live, and if so, where? Perhaps involve them in this work? Just asking…

    • None in the area. I believe there are one or two in North Carolina. One I believe was involved in the 100th celebration organized by Betty Lou Cummings in 1984.