Former Haverhill Library Director Howard Curtis Dies at Age 66

Howard W. Curtis, 66, Haverhill’s former public library director, died late last month of cancer in Riverside, Calif.

He was born in Haverhill Oct. 1, 1948, and first hired at Haverhill Public Library in 1974. He rose through the ranks and was promoted to library director in 1980, serving 15 years in that capacity. He and his family resided at different times in the city’s most historic buildings, including Kimball Tavern, 2 Salem St., and Whittier Birthplace, 305 Whittier Road.

Curtis is credited with helping to create the Washington Street Historic District, as a means of saving the then-51 buildings from the urban renewal wrecking ball, and Isaac Merrill House Foundation, saving and moving a well-documented brick house threatened with demolition at the building site of Haffner’s gas station, Plaistow Road. He was also instrumental in founding the Haverhill Citizens Hall of Fame, U.S. Constitution Bicentennial Committee, and other city groups. Curtis was also the force behind enlarging the Haverhill Public Library during the 1990s.

He co-authored several books, including “Architectural Heritage of Haverhill” (1976). Curtis received New England Magazine’s Local Hero award, Bradford College Community Service award and Haverhill Bar Association’s Liberty Bell Award.

In 1996, Curtis accepted a position as director of the public library in Corona, Calif., where he would serve two stints totaling nearly 10 years. He left Corona for 10 months when he accepted a post as director of the Montclair Public Library, New Jersey, but returned to the California city. In Corona, he was credited with establishing a business information/career center, an award winning homework center and a passport office; and adding literacy programs for both adults and children and expanding the children’s center.

In 2006, Haverhill city officials said they were stunned to receive notice of a lawsuit filed by Forrest Pettengill, alleging Curtis had sexually abused him beginning when he was 13 years old during overnight Boy Scout trips and at the Haverhill Public Library two decades before. The suit named the city, Trustees of the Haverhill Public Library, Yankee Clipper Council of the Boy Scouts of America and others. City leaders turned the matter over to Haverhill Police for investigation, leading to a criminal case. In the meantime, other boys alleged molestation as early as the 1970s, but the statute of limitations in those cases had expired.

The allegations caused the library director to withdraw from library director job offers in Beverly and West Tisbury.

Curtis ultimately pled guilty to child rape in 2008 and was sentenced by a Salem Superior Court judge to serve two consecutive terms of four to six years in state prison. The city’s insurance company ultimately settled with Pettengill.

Curtis was a graduate of Haverhill High School and held a master’s degree in Library and Information Sciences degree from Simmons College, Boston, and bachelor’s in history from the American University, Washington, D.C. As an undergraduate, he studied at the University College of Wales, Swansea, South Wales, U.K.

Curtis leaves his former wife Monica (Glass) Curtis and children, Joanna (Curtis) Bartell and Jonathan Curtis.