By Peter Becker
HAWLEY- Another of Hawley's 19th century physicians was Dr. George Boardman Curtis, son of a Baptist evangelist who helped organize the first church in the village.
Dr. G.B. Curtis- as he was known- was born in Bethany, Pa. on February 4, 1835, the son of Rev. Henry Curtis, a fervent evangelistic Baptist preacher, and Eliza (Banning) Curtis. Rev. Curtis was the pastor of the Baptist Church in Bethany, when in January of 1833 he conducted three days of services in Paupack Eddy, the settlement destined to known as Hawley less than 20 years later.
This was believed to be the first preaching of the Gospel done at Paupack Eddy and helped lead to the formation of the Baptist church there. Rev. Curtis came to preach occasionally at Hawley through 1848.
The minister was born in 1801 in Lincesterchire, England, the youngest of 12 children. The family emigrated to America in 1812 and settled at Otsego, New York. He became licensed to preach in 1824, and was wed to Eliza the same year. After living in Broome County, NY they moved to Wayne County.
He also helped organize the Baptist church at Honesdale in 1843 and did much preaching at Clinton Baptist, in Damascus and in Carbondale, and held meetings at many locations in Wayne County, as well as in Shohola and Lackawaxen in Pike. During his long ministry, Rev. Curtis reportedly baptized over 1,000 professed believers.
His son George would follow the faith. Records show that in 1865 Dr. George B. Curtis was a trustee of the Baptist church in Hawley, located at that time near the old Eddy cemetery on what is now Hudson Street. Rev. Henry Curtis was called back as pastor in 1862, and served the Hawley church until his death in 1867.
The Curtis family lived on Hudson Street, overlooking the busy Delaware & Hudson Canal across the street, and the river parallel to the canal. One can imagine the Curtis family walking down Hudson on a nice day to church, or probably taking a horse and buggy, with Rev. Curtis, his son George and wife, and their large brood.
George also had three brothers and two sisters.
On Thursday, June 29, 1862, Dr. Curtis was wed to Miss Augusta Catherine Cook at Ledgedale, Pa. His bride was the daughter of John A. Cook, Esq., of the same village, near the far western end of the Wallenpaupack river valley. The Cooks were from Oswego, NY.
They had three sons and four daughters. In order from oldest to youngest were a son John H. (born 1865); son Augustus D.; son Eugene B.; daughter Helen L.; daughter Hariet C,, daughter Julia A. and daughter Margaret E. (born 1879). Another record listed a daughter Nellie but not Helen.
The 1880 Census also listed Mary J. Carollon, a 22-year old servant who lived with them. Mrs. Curtis was listed as a homemaker.
As of 1886, the eldest, John Curtis, had followed his father's profession as a physician, having graduated from New York City University.
Augustus D. Curtis (1865-1931) traveled to Chicago where he became a manufacturer of X-ray reflectors.
Harriet Curtis married Harlow Leekley, of Chicago. Her husband was U.S. Commissioner for Indian Territory.
As a boy he attended school in Bethany, and completed his literary course at the University of Northern Pennsylvania. The latter was a school of higher learning, a college located in the village of Bethany and occupying the old wooden courthouse. Bethany was the county seat of Wayne County from 1800 to 1841, when court and county government was relocated to the growing town of Honesdale. The courthouse building was transformed into a college, which lasted until the building burned down in 1857.
Interested in medicine, George Curtis began study under Dr. King, of Honesdale. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia, in March of 1858. That same year he formed a partnership with an old an respected physician of Hawley, Dr. H. L. Stearns.
Dr. Curtis practiced medicine with Dr. Stearns for three years, and then continued a solo practice until the time of his death.
His doctor's office appears to have been in his home, on 1st Street, which we now know as Hudson Street in Hawley, as shown on the 1872 street map. The office was the fifth building north of the "S" turn. Like other physicians of his era, he also his own drug store. The map shows a drug store next door, to the right as seen from the street.
Alfred Mathews, who chronicled local history in 1886 in "History of Wayne, Pike and Monroe Counties, Pennsylvania," penned an account of Dr. George B. Curtis. He noted, "Dr. Curtis was truly one of the respectable of the profession. His religious faith was that of his esteemed father, and of his character, virtue was the foundation and ethics the test. Guilty of no vicious habit, he was always reliable, always found in the same place, gradually rising in the estimation of his professional confreres, the respect of his patients and confidence of the people.
"In the practice of medicine he was faithful, and in the department of surgery he performed some of the capital operations successfully. When unemployed he was economical of his time, his leisure hours spent in the perusal of medical journals, and he often furnished articles for them."
Some information on Dr. Curtis was found in 19th century medical journals, scanned and put online. An August 1860 entry goes into detail about Dr. Curtis' apparently successful remedy for worms, citing treatment of a mother and her two small children at his office.
He was a respected member of the Tri-States Medical Society in Port Jervis. He was elected treasurer in about 1874.
Just as Dr. Curtis had learned from the elder Dr. Stearns in Hawley, in the mid-1860's he was visited by a teenager who wanted to learn medicine. David B. Hand, born in 1848 and raised on a Hawley farm, came to study under Dr. Curtis, and went on to University of the City of New York. Dr. Hand practiced medicine in South Canaan, in Scranton and other locations. Hand recalled that Dr. Curtis had "a better knowledge of anatomy and physiology than half the doctors."
In the mid-1870's Dr. Curtis had another young medical student under his wing. Alfred D. Leonard, born in 1853 at Middle Valley, Wayne County, studied under Dr. Curtis and had charge of his drug store. In 1878, Leonard graduated with a doctor's degree from Dr. Curtis' alma mater. Dr. Leonard practiced at South Canaan and in New York State.
Also working in his drug store for six months was Samuel Allen Lee of Clinton Township, Wayne County, who went west and followed a successful pharmaceutical career.
Dr. Curtis died on June 9, 1884 in Hawley, of Bright's Disease. He was age 49. Bright's Disease is a former name for acute or chronic nephritis, a disease of the kidneys.
A funeral was held at the residence; interment was at Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale.
The Tri-States Medical Society selected Dr. Abram C. Dingman, a colleague of Dr. Curtis from Hawley, to deliver a memorial address.
Dr. Dingman described Dr. Curtis, as "considerably above the medium height, of a rather large frame, light features, light hair and a fair complexion. His countenance wore a serious and thoughtful expression, but was often lighted up with smiles during social and friendly intercourse. His manner was composed and quiet, but always courteous, and his whole department that of a fine gentleman."
An image of Dr. George B. Curtis has not yet been located.
Editor's note: Dr. Abram Coolbaugh Dingman's life story was detailed in a previous edition of this series.