Happy 218th Birthday, Horace Staples!

Horace Staples was born on January 31, 1801.

More than 80 years later — by then the wealthiest man in Westport — he founded a high school. He had grown tired of watching pupils go off to Bridgeport or Norwalk for their educations. Staples’ High School — that was the correct punctuation — opened in 1884. The first class (consisting of just 6 girls) graduated 2 years later.

For as long as Horace Staples was alive, the quickly growing high school celebrated every January 31 as Founder’s Day. He joined in the festivities, and viewed with pride his students’ presentations and orations.

Horace Staples

A typical ceremony began with an opening hymn, scriptures, a prayer and the 112nd Psalm. There was a reading on “A Liberal Education”; a piano solo and song; a debate on the topic “Resolved: that civilized nations are justified in seizing and occupying lands inhabited by savages”; a declamation on Paul Revere’s Ride; addresses thanking Horace Staples; his response; another hymn, and final remarks.

Horace Staples attended many Founder’s Days. He died on March 6, 1897 — age 96. He had outlived all his wives and children, and was both the best-known and oldest citizen in town.

Founders Day foundered after his death. But 3 years ago, Rho Kappa — the Staples High School (current punctuation) honor society — resurrected the celebration.

There are exhibits of life in the 1880s. The library hosts a speaker.

And every year, Horace Staples — or a reasonable facsimile thereof — roams the halls, popping into classrooms to talk about “his” school, and its 135-year history.

Here are some photos of today’s Founder’s Day. If Horace bears a close resemblance to the world’s leading expert on Westport’s crown jewel — the guy who a decade ago wrote a 377-page book called Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ Education (and today runs a blog called “o688o”) — well, that’s just one more memorable moment in the long, illustrious history that all began with Horace Staples’ birth, 218 years ago today.

Before the opening bell, Horace Staples visited with social studies teachers. Here he chats about his high school with Drew Coyne.

Among the classes Horace Staples visited was Current Issues: American Media and Politics. It’s a new addition to the curriculum. If it was taught when Staples’ High School opened, pupils would have discussed the administration of President Chester Alan Arthur.

Horace visited himself in the library.

Horace Staples also spent time hanging with students in the cafeteria. He reminded them that until 1923, everyone had to bring their own lunch to school. And — with the temperature in single digits — he noted that for many years, all students had to walk to school. Some came from as far as Wilton.

17 responses to “Happy 218th Birthday, Horace Staples!

  1. You’re better looking!

  2. Bettina Gangi

    Thanks, Dan…as an old teacher of American History myself and the mother of two Staples grads, Jay ‘82 and Ted ‘83, we regard this article as a real gem. The family came to Westport the summer of ‘68, but we did not know even 75% of the story you’ve told so well. Am sure current students have appreciated Horace’s timely visit.

  3. Glad that WHS was able to help out with the costume–looks great!

  4. HI Dan,

    I enjoyed your history of Staples. I found the early founder’s day debate topic fascinating and a bit sad. I wonder if you know if any of the students’ position statements from the debate was preserved?

  5. Geraldine Crooker

    Thank you so much for the interesting history about Staples. I was very fortunate to attend Horace’s great school.

  6. Kathie Bennewitz

    Thanks for keeping this day alive and Horace’s spirit as active as ever!

  7. So enjoyed having you do this again this year! Thanks Dan!

  8. Dan! You’re a star! If you need a good agent…….call me!!!

  9. Barbara Sherburne '67

    Thank you, Dan, for keeping Founder’s Day alive and well. It is always interesting to read about Horace Staples and what he did for Westport. Until 1923 they had to bring their own lunches to school, and had to walk to school as well as far off as Wilton? And we complained about walking from building to building to get to our classes in mud and rain. Thanks, Dan, for participating in this on basically single-digit day.

  10. Diana Pils Marino

    Very cool story. I didn’t know any of that. I’m so proud to be a graduate of such an illustrious school. Well done Dan!
    SHS ’79

  11. Arlene Avellanet

    Put the apostrophe back in Staples’

    Love it!

  12. David Stalling

    This is wonderful! And Dan, you make for a handsome Horace.