John Henry Curtis, the founder of the Curtis Broom Factory, was the son of Alfred and Sarah (Henley) Curtis.
Sarah was the daughter of William and Rebecca (Russell) Henley. She was born in Tennessee in 1837. Sarah died in Lucas County in 1864 and was buried in Douglas cemetery on the Bluegrass Road. Alfred was born in Ohio in 1824. Alfred and his first wife Ann (Minnick) moved to Missouri in 1851. She died in 1853, leaving 3 daughters. Alfred married Sarah Henley, November 13, 1856. Alfred and Sarah moved to Lucas County from Missouri in 1862. Alfred enlisted at Chariton in the 34th Iowa Infantry, leaving Sarah to raise the 3 girls, Mary, Desdemona and Odesta and their 3 small children, Anna, John Henry and Samantha. He was given a medical discharge after being struck by floating logs in Arkansas.
Alfred married again after Sarah died. He and his third wife, Elizabeth (Warrington) lived on various farms in Lucas County. In 1884, Alfred and Elizabeth moved to her mother's farm 2 miles west of Chariton. He apparently was deaf because he was hit by an approaching train on the Burlington line and died Septemeber 23, 1884, at the age of 60. He is buried at the Chariton cemetery.
John Henry Curtis was born near Mt. Vernon, Missouri, October 28, 1859. He married Mary Ellen "Mollie" Proctor, March 26, 1881 at the home of the bride's parents in the 700 block of Court Avenue in Chariton. Mollie was born near Peoria, Illinois in 1861, the daughter of Thomas and Mira (Kimzey) Proctor.
In September 1876, J.H. started work for C.O. Perry Broom Co. It was here that he learned the art of sorting broom corn at the age of 18 - a trade which he continued to do for more than 70 years. He continued to work for the Perry brothers until 1883, when he decided to start his own business. He opened his new business January 1, 1884 and was making brooms just 2 months later.
His first factory was in a cow barn at their residence on what we know as East Woodlawn. That area was mostly prairie land with very few houses at that time. They moved to a house at 215 S. 8th Street that he built. J.H. moved his factory to a two story structure across the alley from his house, that was owned by his son-in-law, Dr. Albert Yocom. On the first floor was a storage space for huge balls of broom corn, bleaching vats for the broom corn and storage for other supplies for the brooms. The work room was on the second floor. There was an open platform elevator to lift the materials to the 2nd floor.
In 1926, J.H. built a factory on the rear of his home lot. The old building was torn down. The Curtis Broom Company made 5 or 6 different types of broom - the heavy warehouse broom; 2 or 3 different sizes of household brooms and the red-handled toy brooms.
John Henry and Sarah Curtis had 11 children, 9 boys and 2 girls - Lewis, Arthur, Arlington, John, George, Paul, Dean, Jennie, Edwin, Elizabeth and Glenn. The broom factory was surely a family business. Lewis and Edwin worked for a time at the factory. Arlington's wife, the former Claudia Downard, also worked at the factory. Glenn started as a salesman for the firm at the age of 15. When he came home from his service in WWI, John offered Glenn one-quarter partnership in the company. He sold brooms to retailers in Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, but most were sold through Chariton Wholesale. Glenn became sole owner in 1943. Glenn's son, Wiley, helped out at the factory for a time. In 1955, after 82 years in business, the Curtis Broom factory closed. (the following is a note from: John Henry's great-grandson, his youngest daughter Elizabeth, (Betts) was my grandmother. I do believe there is an error, and, that is the closing of the broom factory. To my recollection, I believe the Curtis Broom Factory, J. H. Curtis & Son, closed in 1965. Thanks, Guy F. "Jeff" Bradley II)
John Henry and Mollie Curtis were active members of the First Baptist Church. J.H. served on the Chariton cemetery board for over 40 years. While on the cemetery board, he purchased 44 lots for his very large family in the southern part of the cemetery.
On March 20, 1931, J.H. and Mollie celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at their home on South 8th Street.
Mollie died at Yocom Hospital June 22, 1937.
John celebrated his 90th birthday on October 28, 1949, receiving over 200 birthday cards. He died the following June 21st at Yocom Hospital leaving his surviving 9 children, 23 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren to mourn him.