Henry Curtner
Land Baron/Philanthropist

NOTE- The Indiana Historical Society  has a  collection of letters written  by friends of Henry Curtner

SURNAMES:  Heaton, Kendall, Myers, Holman, Latham

During the fifties men from all sections of the country were thronging to California as offering advantages and opportunities greater than were possible in the East, and among them was Henry Curtner, a pioneer of Alameda County. On his arrival on the Pacific Coast in 1852 he was without means, except $20, a stranger in a strange land, without friends to assist him in getting a start. He purchased a pair of blankets and a stage ticket to Mission San Jose, where he was to work on the ranch of Beard & Ellsworth, with whom he had contracted to work while in Indiana. He worked faithfully and in six months' time had saved some money and bought out the balance of the contract, so he was free to begin farming for himself which he did at Centerville, and from that time forward his career was prosperous, until he became one of the largest landowners of his county.

Mr. Curtner was born in Fountain County, Indiana, January 17, 1831, and was next to the youngest of five sons and five daughters, all of whom are deceased. His father, Jacob Curtner, was born and reared in North Carolina, where he married Nancy Heaton, a native of Tennessee. Afterwards, about 1827, they removed to Indiana and settled among the pioneer farmers of Fountain County, where they passed their active years in the development of a homestead Mrs. Curtner died in Fulton County, Indiana, while Mr. Curtner passed away in Cass County, near Logansport. He had been a soldier in the Indian struggles and served under General Jackson, taking part in the battle of Horseshoe Bend.

During the boyhood years of Henry Curtner educational facilities were in their infancy. Schools were held in log buildings with puncheon floors and slab benches,textbooks were few and of inferior quality. Having acquired such instruction as the schools afforded, Mr. Curtner started out in the world to earn his livelihood. He had been left an orphan and had to "paddle his own canoe," and he found a hard time of it because many people did not hesitate to take advantage of an orphan boy. One year he hired to a farmer for a year, and he was to have, besides a pittance, three months' schooling and a new suit of clothes. They did not let him go to school but put him in the woods at the end of an ax-handle and, instead of a new suit, offered him a second-hand suit, which Mr. Curtner declined, saying that summer had come, and so left them. For a time he worked on a farm and also engaged in clearing timbered land, after which he became a towboy or boat driver on the Wabash and Erie canal, working for his board. In 1852 he utilized his savings in paying the expenses of the long voyage from New York via Panama to San Francisco. Four years after his arrival on the coast, in the fall of 1856, he returned to Indiana and married in Cass County, Miss Lydia Kendall, who was born in Indiana. In the fall of 1857 the young couple removed to California, where they purchased fifty acres between Centerville and Alvarado, Alameda County, and for about ten years they made their home upon that property. In the spring of 1868 they removed to the estate near Warm Springs and there he resided until he passed away. His first purchase near Warm Springs comprised little less than 2000 acres, to which he added from time to time until his landed possessions aggregated 8000 acres; however, a portion of this was sold, in small farms and the balance he divided among his children.

After locating in the Santa Clara Valley, he bought and sold real estate, specultaed in lands, made improvements of noteworthy character, and proved himself a capable and progressive business man. For many years he served on the boards of directors of the Security State Bank of San Jose and was also president of the Milpitas Land and Live Stock Company, owners of 8000 head of cattle, 800 head of horses and a flock of 7000 sheep, utiliizing for the same a tract of 32,000 acres of patented land in Humboldt County, Nevada, besides a range of 100 square miles.

Of Mr. Curtner's first marriage six sons and two daughters were born, seven reaching maturity; Walter J. of San Jose;
Frank died in 1909; William resides near Warm Springs, while Allen lives in Sunnyvale; Jacob lives on the home place; Josephine is Mrs. Myers of San Jose; Grace is Mrs. Holman. After the death of his first wife, Mr. Curtner married Miss Mary E. Myers, who was born in Logansport, Ind., and passed away in California. The two children of this union were Albert H., deceased, and Arthur D., residing on the old home place. The third marriage of Mr. Curtner united him with Miss Lucy Latham, a native of Illinois, who survives him.

While the magnitude of Mr. Curtner's landed interests demanded his personal attention to the exclusion of participation in public affairs, yet he was always a warm supporter of the public schools, aided in promoting the standard of education in his district, and, reminded of his own recollections of the deprivations of his boyhood, always contributed liberally to movements for the development of educational factilities. The establishment and building of Irvington Seminary may be attributed to his zeal and financial support, and while at first he was associated with a corporation in the undertakings, he afterward acquired the entire institution. After it was burned, about 1898, he sold the property, which was rebuilt and is now operated under the present title of Anderson Academy.

He was a stanch adherent of the Republican party, and kept himself intelligently conversant with the issues of the times, yet always declined office and never gave his consent to the use of his name in candidacy for positions within the gift of his fellow-citizens. Pre-eminently his tastes were toward private undertakings, not public affairs, yet he was never negligent of his duty as a citizen. He realized that whatever success crowned his efforts was due in a large degree to the opportunities afforded by the fertile soil and fair climate of the coast country, and he was ever alert to promote the advancement of the state. His public spirit and progressive citizenship were a large contribution to the material and educational development of the community in which he resided.

Mr. Curtner was a man of a wonderful tenacity of purpose and with an ambition to succeed placed higher than in most men, he worked and seemed unerring. Having faith in the future for California lands, he saw how it would rise in value, so when land was low and went begging he bought thousands of acres, knowing full well it would rise again and he would take his profit. When Beard & Ellsworth (the men who owned the ranch and for whom he worked when he came to California) went broke, Mr. Curtner purchased the ranch. On his vast tracts he set out hundreds of acres of orchard and he was an upbuilder and leader in developing the horticultural and agricultural interests in the valley. He always kept his word, hence he had unlimited credit. He bought a large part of the Murphy lands, subdivided them and sold to incoming settlers, and also did the same with the entire Ynigo ranch, as well as other large tracts, thus opening the way for small farmers to secure places they might improve and help to build up the county. He was generous and kind, assisting by his backing and influence many deserving young men who made a success in the world and became prosperous, influential and a credit to the community. Having had a hard and uphill struggle as an orphan boy, he naturally had a warm heart for the orphans, as well as widows who were left helpless, and he was very liberal in his donations to institutions of that kind. Among some of his bequests were $30,000 to home benevolences; $30,000 to the Pratt Home; $20,000 to the San Anselmo Orphanage; $6,000 to pay balance of the debt on the Oakland Orphanage; $5,000 to the Santa Clara County Pioneers for a building. He helped many boys and girls that were unable to secure a higher education but for his aid. His life record may well serve as a source of inspiration and encouragement to others, showing that success and an honored name may be won simutaneously. This millionaire cattleman and rancher, who was one of the valley's greatest philanthropists, passed to that Great Beyond November 1, 1916, honored and loved by

Transcribed by Marie Clayton, from Eugene T. Sawyers' History of Santa Clara County,California,
 published by Historic Record Co. , 1922. page 423