, Salem, MA

December 14, 2011

Letter: Street bears name of Salem's first blacksmith

To the editor:

The name "Curtis" has seen various spellings, one of which — believe it or not — is "Curtious." To simplify matters, the earliest Salem Curtis on record used only two spellings — "Curtis" and "Curtice."

William Curtis came to Salem in 1659. He was a blacksmith, and his wife, Alice, was the daughter of Daniel Rumball, Salem's first blacksmith.

At some point during his residence in Salem, Curtis bought an indentured servant from Thomas Chandler of Andover. Jacob Preston, the servant, was to do his time as a blacksmith's apprentice, but it appears he was unhappy with his new arrangement and tried to run away. Being court-ordered to finish out his term of service plus three months to make up for time lost, Preston took one more leave from Curtis, sailing off in a ketch "to the eastward" never to be seen again.

Curtis' son, also William, owned the house his father had built on the site of what would become Essex and Curtis streets. Following the family tradition, the younger Curtis was a blacksmith, but he also worked as a sawyer. His household must have been busy with a wife and nine children, three of whom were triplets.

According to Sidney Perley's history of Salem, Curtis Street was laid out about 1668 by the widow Hester Eastwick on her land.

In 1705, it was called Esticke's Lane, but in 1741 it was Vealy's Lane for Thomas Vealy. In 1759, it was renamed Curtis Lane, which it kept, finally becoming Curtis Street in 1795.

In earlier times, Curtis Street, running between Essex and Derby streets, had its share of mariners. After his career at sea, Capt. Thomas Ashby operated a grocery store at his home on the corner of Essex and Curtis streets. He was married three times, had five children and died of debility in 1804 at the age of 41. (In about 1898, the house was moved from 85 Essex to 5 Curtis St.)

Another interesting resident on this street was Micajah P. Huntington, a clairvoyant physician who lived at number 6 briefly in the late 19th century.

In 1915, the city decided to widen Derby Street and discontinue part of Curtis Street from Derby and reroute it to connect with Orange Street, creating a rectangle of sorts with Orange and Essex streets. (This whole operation involved the taking of land from an old and honored institution known familiarly as the Brookhouse Home.

By the way, if you go online, you'll see that Google has located someone by the name of "Curtis Street." Now if only he lived in Salem on Curtis Street — or better yet, on Orange Street!

Jeanne Stella