Why a Portland recluse gave a fortune to Falmouth schoolkids

Crispus Graves
Died March 15, 1879

Greetings from Portland. Sweater weather is here. Every day this month I’m telling a story that bridges the gap between this world, and the next. I’m resurrecting the memory of Portlanders who’ve crossed over to the other side by posting one video each day, relating the tale of one, interesting “permanent Portlander.”

Crispus Graves of East Deering was a bit of a recluse. He lived with his older brother, Eben, in one cluttered room in their otherwise neat farmhouse. Their walls were papered with news accounts going back decades. They kept mostly to themselves. Neighbors said they only changed their clothes when absolutely necessary.

Legend has it, the neighborhood kids were not kind to Crispus Graves and they would throw rocks at his horse when he passed by.

That may have something to do with the fact that when Graves died, in his early 60s, he left over $15,000 to School District No. 5 — in the neighboring town of Falmouth.

They used the money to build a new school that housed kids until the late 1940s. The building still stands, bell and all. It’s somebody’s house now.

Across the street is a park bearing Crispus Graves’ name, where children still play today.

Graves is buried in the Grand Trunk Cemetery, in the trees behind Presumpscot Elementary School. When I arrived, after school one day, a group of boys was playing near his stone.

None of them were throwing rocks.

Today’s story is brought to you, in part, by the tireless work of Marianne Chapman and her amazing blog “Remnant: Grand Trunk Cemetery Reclamation Project.

It’s also worth noting that during Crispus Graves’ lifetime, his East Deering neighborhood — including the cemetery — was part of the city of Westbrook. From 1871 to 1899 Deering was its own city before being annexed by Portland.

Disclaimer: I’m not a historian. I owe everything I know to the dedicated research of those who have come before me. These character sketches are assembled from multiple (often antique) sources and sprinkled with my own conjecture. I’m happy to be set straight or to learn more.

Crispus Graves' well-worn tombstone stands in East Deering's Grand Trunk Cemetery. Graves left money to a Falmouth school district. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Crispus Graves’ well-worn tombstone stands in East Deering’s Grand Trunk Cemetery. Graves left money to a Falmouth school district. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Crispus Graves' well-worn tombstone stands in East Deering's Grand Trunk Cemetery. Graves left money to a Falmouth school district. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Crispus Graves’ well-worn tombstone stands in East Deering’s Grand Trunk Cemetery. Graves left money to a Falmouth school district. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

 

Troy R. Bennett

About Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.