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.
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.