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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)