Date in History: 1833 – 1897
On November 16th, 1860 two days after his 27th birthday, Vermont native David Curtis married Jane Howard and looked forward to a quiet life farming the homestead in the town of Jefferson (near Curtis Mill) that he and his family had claimed back in 1845. But after 1860, everyone’s days of quiet were numbered.
In the summer of 1862 Curtis enlisted as a private in the war to save the Union and was soon elected to lead his local unit – Company D of the 29th Regiment. Curtis was a successful officer, commanding the respect of his men. In May 1865, he was commissioned a Captain in the Quartermaster’s Department, receiving a furlough to let him visit his family for the first time since 1862. He arrived home in June and was never called back.
Upon his return to town, Curtis formed a partnership with Oscar Cornish to deal in lumber and agricultural products. “Lumber, Lath and Shingles at C & C’s, Fort Atkinson” was soon painted on fences, stones and buildings in a thirty mile radius directing customers to their shop north of the Rock River in Fort Atkinson. Business really took off when Curtis began to manufacture a new rectangular churn he’d designed. It was a revolutionary idea at the time since Curtis’s churn was a cube supported from two opposite corners and didn’t need any inside paddles to do the churning.
With the success of the churn, the partners gradually turned their lumber business toward manufacturing complete outfits for creameries, which happily matched the trend among Wisconsin farmers who were then turning strongly toward the dairy industry. Walter Greene added an infusion of cash and by the 1890s Cornish, Curtis and Greene was one of the nation’s leading dairy machinery manufacturing businesses.
Curtis’s personal life was equally successful. He and his wife had two children, Harry born in 1866, and Belle born in 1870. In 1885 they built a beautiful home on the northwest corner of Germany Street (Sherman Ave.) and Jefferson Street. Curtis developed strong friendships with other civic minded businessmen like W. D. Hoard and Lucien Caswell and became an important community leader. When he died unexpectedly in 1897 at the age of 63, the entire town mourned. All the businesses in town closed on a Tuesday afternoon to say goodbye to a man who had done so much for Fort Atkinson and to see him off to Evergreen Cemetery.