Monday - Thursday 10:00 am to 9:00 pm
Friday and Saturday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
The James Curtiss House is situated on a steep bank overlooking Maiden Lane as it slopes eastward towards Hersig Brook.
The James Curtiss House is a three-bay, central-chimney, colonial structure. It stands on a cut sandstone foundation which is exposed on its east side, revealing a shop door dating from the eighteenth century. The main entry is original and contains a two-leafed six panelled doorway. The only remaining original fenestration is on the second story of the facade, which contains eight-over-twelve sash. A shed-roofed addition dating from the nineteenth century has been constructed on the southwest corner of the house.
In 1722 James Curtiss, the son of one of Durham’s original proprietors, purchased a five-acre section of the “Governor 1s Farm” from Samuel Pickett for 77 pounds. At that
time no structure stood upon the property. In 1761 Curtiss, “for the love and affection which I bear towards my son, ‘ deeded half the house, barn, and other buildings on the property (which had now grown to 20 acres in size) to his son, Nathan Curtiss (1734-1776). The house was built at some point between 1737 and 1761. James Curtiss was one of the town’s leaders. As his epitaph in the Old Cemetery noted “Capt. James Curtiss/ Deacon of this Church/ who having been exemplary/ for piety, peace,
and order/ from his Youth/ and useful in various Offices/ of civil and sacred trust/ through life/ resigned his breath/ Jany. 13th A.D. 1790/ The hoary Head of the righteous is a Crown of Glory.” James Curtiss outlived his son Nathan who, as one of the early enthusiastic supporters of American independence, marched off with the militia to Westchester County, New York, where he was killed on September 21, 1776. He left a widow, Anna, and a son, James (1763-1806). James was an enterprising man. In addition to his farm he operated a mill for manufacturing gunpowder. He was killed in an explosion of his factory in February of 1806. James Curtiss’s children all went West, to Michigan and New York. His widow lived in the house until 1819. She died leaving her estate divided into 70 shares. In the l820s William H. Walkley bought out the shares of the various Curtiss legatees. (The records of these transactions provide a fascinating glimpse into the migration pattern
of Durhamites during the early nineteenth century.) He sold the property in 1868 to Samuel G. Camp. It remained in the Camp family until 1908 and was purchased by its present owners in 1962. This house is architecturally significant as a fine example of the saltbox structures favored by Durham’s early settlers. It is notable for its integrity both as a structure and for its site, which has changed little since the eighteenth century. Historically it is significant for its association with the Curtisses, one of Durham’s most prominent eighteenth-century families, active in ecclesiastical, political, and economic affairs.