Curtis Family

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Henry Hargraves Curtis home at 6797 S. Windermere 1893
Henry Hargraves Curtis home at 6797 S. Windermere c.1893. The house was built in 1891. The property was homesteaded by Anthony Wyman in 1862 and sold to Henry H. Curtis, Jr. in 1882. The people in this photo are probably (left to right) Henry H. Curtis, Harry, Mabel (Dunn), Rachel (Mrs. Henry H.) Lutz Curtis, Kate (Alexander) on porch, and Maude.

The Curtis family who lived in Douglas County and in Littleton was a very large one. This article will attempt to describe the family patriarch, Henry Harper Curtis, and two of his descendants who were prominent in Littleton: Henry Hargraves Curtis, his son, and Leo F. Curtis, his grandson.

Henry Harper Curtis, (commonly referred to as Henry H., Sr.), was born in Neath, Wales in 1830 and was a jeweler. At age nineteen he married Julia Frances Paddison on December 4, 1849 in Wales. They must have been adventurous spirits, for on December 30 they sailed for Sydney, Australia. Henry, Sr. had decided to find or buy his own gold for his jewelry. From Sydney they traveled by wagon to Bathurst and then to Oberon. They were to remain in the gold fields for six years. Several children were born in Australia, including Henry Hargraves Curtis. He was born March 21, 1852. Henry Hargraves Curtis was to become known as "Henry H. Curtis, Jr.," although one will note that his middle name and his father's middle name were different.

In about 1855 Henry Harper Curtis took his family back to Wales from Australia. Several more children were born there. He and Julia Paddison Curtis had ten children in all; one son died in 1863 in Wales when he was one year old.

In 1871 Henry Harper and Julia Curtis brought their nine remaining children to America, to Douglas County, Colorado where they bought a 560-acre ranch on Perry Park Road, three and one-half miles south of Sedalia. A tiny house was on the land; they enlarged it by seven rooms and called the ranch "Oaklands."

At Oaklands they raised cattle and dairy products. Henry Harper Curtis became a justice of the peace and a magistrate in Douglas County. He went to Long Beach, California for a while, but returned to Colorado in 1883 and settled at the "Pentilla Ranch" until 1902 when he returned to Oaklands.

The Pentilla Ranch was in the area that is now known as Shadycroft in the south part of Littleton. (The Shadycroft neighborhood extends from South Windermere to South Prince, is bounded on the south by the Highline Canal, and includes the streets of Rangeview and Shadycroft.) Curtis named the Pentilla Ranch after his home in Wales because the rolling prairie reminded him of that place. The name means "high and sightly." In 1902, apparently when Henry Curtis went back to Oaklands, he sold 365 acres along the Highline Canal to the Julius Johnson family. Johnson called it Shadycoft Farm. In 1917 Johnson's son took over the farm, and in the 1940s sold all but fifteen acres. Johnson descendants still live on a portion of the original farm. It is not known if Henry Harper Curtis's Pentilla Ranch encompassed more than the 365 acres that he sold to the Johnsons.

Henry Harper Curtis, the family patriarch, died at Oaklands on March 13, 1911 at age eighty. His wife, Julia, died in June 1913 at age eighty-seven. Both are buried at Bear Canon Cemetery at St. Phillip in the Field Episcopal Church south of Sedalia, as are most of the other members of the Curtis family.

Henry Hargraves Curtis, second child and oldest son of Henry Harper and Julia Curtis, was born in Australia March 21, 1852. (Houstoun Waring, writing about the Curtis family in 1971, said he was born at Bathurst. Henry Hargraves Curtis's son, Leo Curtis, in a biography of his father, said it was at Sidney.) Henry Hargraves Curtis would have been about age three when his father took the family back to Wales.

Henry Hargraves Curtis, ("Henry H., Jr."), was apprenticed as a watchmaker and jeweler at a young age, (probably around age twelve.) It may have been his father who trained him. Besides a watchmaker and jeweler, he became an expert in the judgment of precious stones and an excellent engraver and penman. As noted above, he came to Colorado with his family in 1871 when he would have been eighteen. He went into the watchmaking business in Denver for a short time. His son, Leo, said that the competition there was keen, and his father did not last long. He went to work on the farm that his father had bought in Douglas County.

Henry, "Jr.," met and married Rachel Lutz who was the stepdaughter of Jesse Estlack. Estlack at that time was farming the land south of Littleton that became Wolhurst. Rachel Lutz had earlier come from Utah with her mother by wagon train under soldier escort during a period of Indian hostilities. The marriage date of Henry Hargraves Curtis and Rachel Lutz is given variously as 1872 by their son, Leo, and as April 7, 1873 in lists of Arapahoe County Territorial Colorado marriages compiled by the Colorado State Archives.

In 1882 Henry, Jr. and Rachel decided to farm for themselves. They came to Littleton and rented the farm of Richard Little, located between the railroad tracks and the Platte River. They lived in a brick house, known as "the old Bair property" and owned by Jesse Estlack, at 610 South Rapp Avenue. In the fall of 1883 grade school classes were held in the front room of this home while a new wing for the Rapp Street School building was being constructed.

It was while farming Richard Little's land that Henry, Jr., bought the first McCormack twine binder in this part of the country. His son, Leo, said that in 1884 his father broke the sod on Richard Little's land, bounded on the north by Little's gulch and on the south by Ridge Road, on the east by Windermere Avenue and on the west by South Prince Street. It was a tract of over 120 acres, and Henry Curtis turned the furrows with a walking plow. He raised wheat and reaped it with his new twine binder.

During this time Henry and Rachel Curtis bought approximately eighty acres south of Ridge Road and west of Windermere. A transcript of the deed to this property at the Littleton Museum shows that the transaction took place October 21, 1882 from Anthony Wyman to Henry H. Curtis, Jr., (Henry Hargraves Curtis). Henry H., Jr., built a house there and the family moved to it from 610 South Rapp. A photograph of this house at the Museum indicates it was built in 1891. The grain that Henry H., Jr., raised on Richard Little's farm was threshed there. The house still stands at 6797 South Windermere.

Prices at sixty-five cents per bushel for wheat and four dollars per ton for alfalfa in the 1880s were discouraging, however, and Henry, Jr. decided to return to his first trade as jeweler and watchmaker. He opened a shop in Hurst's furniture store on Main Street, according to his son, Leo. That was in 1891. He moved his shop a number of times up and down Main Street. His son said that he wound up in the Culp block (southwest corner of Main and Prince).

At some point he sold the farm south of Ridge Road and built a home much closer in--about a block south of Littleton Boulevard on Windermere. The address became 190 South Windermere. From there Henry H., Jr., walked back and forth to work on Main Street until he retired in 1928. He continued watch repair for old customers from his home. Rachel Lutz Curtis had died July 10, 1926.

"Henery, as he was familiarly known," said his son, "was a naturally friendly person. Kids and dogs followed him for a kindly pat. Dozens of times a day some one would drop in at his shop to pass the time of day, tell a yarn (he loved a funny story) or just watch him with his magnifying glass screwed in his eye, examining the intricacies of a watch or engraving letters so fine you could hardly see them with the naked eye." He died May 6, 1936 at age eighty-four.

Leo F. Curtis, the biographer quoted above, was one of the six children of Henry H., Jr., and Rachel. He was born on the ranch on Perry Park Road south of Sedalia May 7, 1877, and was about five years old when his parents moved to Rapp Avenue in Littleton. Leo's schooling began in 1883 in his own living room on Rapp, as described above. His teacher was Maggie Lilley, daughter of John G. Lilley. He and Ernest Mitchell were the only members of the first graduating class of the high school. The two of them left their mark, however, because it was they who chose the school colors of old gold and purple that are still the Littleton High School colors.

Leo began teaching in the grade school soon after graduating and became grade school principal a few years later. By 1911 he was principal of the entire Rapp Street School. After teaching for seventeen years in Littleton, he served as superintendent in Aurora. He next went to the Yuma, Colorado schools. It was there that he met Mrs. Kathleen Purdue, a nurse. They were married in Littleton August 4, 1922.

After marriage the couple spent two years in La Veta, followed by two years in Rifle, Colorado. Leo Curtis was school superintendent in both communities. When the Depression came, and after teaching for thirty-three years, he went to work in 1930 for his boyhood friend, Elzie Montgomery, who was district engineer of the Colorado Highway Department. Leo retired in 1947 when he was seventy years old.

He wrote a series of articles for the Littleton Independent from about 1951 to 1953 about early Littleton and some of its pioneers. Leo F. Curtis died December 23, 1960, survived by his wife, Kathleen, and two sisters, Kate Curtis Alexander and Mabel Curtis Dunn, both of Littleton.

In July 1971 the Curtis family held a family reunion to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival in Douglas County of Henry Harper Curtis from Wales in 1871. It included a two-day celebration at Oaklands Ranch and a memorial service at St. Phillip in the Field Episcopal Church.

There has been, and continues to be, confusion over the spelling of Curtice Street in downtown Littleton, so named by Richard Little on his 1872 plat of the town. The Curtis family of this article has always spelled its name "Curtis." Who was "Curtice?" Various theories abound, and more investigation needs to be done.

Bibliography

Johnson, Dr. Reed. Littleton, Colorado. Johnson family information provided to the Littleton Historical Museum.

Littleton City Directories, 1905, 1932.

Littleton (Colo,) Independent. Littleton Independent Publishers, 1888-

Littleton Museum. Card files, photographic archives, vertical files.

"Marriage Certificates, Territory of Colorado, County of Arapahoe, 1862-1874." Denver, Colorado: Colorado State Archives, c. 1976.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church records. Death Registers, 1874-1983.

Photographs courtesy of the Littleton Museum unless otherwise noted. To order copies, contact the museum at 303-795-3950.

 

Compiled by Doris Farmer Hulse

Updated May 2017