Born in 1841, Joseph Henry Curtis studied at Brown University until 1861, and then at MIT from 1867 to 1868 after a brief stint in the Civil War. In 1880 Curtis co-founded the Northeast Harbor summer colony in Maine with William Doane and Charles Eliot, then president of Harvard University.
A self-taught designer, Curtis referred to himself as a landscape gardener and landscape engineer. His practice was based in Boston, but many of his projects were in Maine, where he spent summers. These projects include a summer colony on Hancock Point, Spruce Point Road in Boothbay, High Head and the Joseph Bowen garden at Hulls Cove in Mount Desert. Curtis’ most significant design was that of his own estate, Thuya Lodge, in Northeast Harbor, Maine.
Architect George Moffete designed Thuya Lodge as the Curtis family’s winter home. Curtis worked on the landscape of the estate beginning in 1880. On the steeply sloping, east-facing site, he incorporated local granite stairways, rustic architecture, and evergreen plantings relying heavily on the native white cedar, Thuja occidentalis. In 1905 Curtis established a trust to maintain the estate as a public park. In 1928, he appointed Charles K. Savage, the local owner of the Asticou Inn, as the sole trustee of the gardens. Savage continued work on the gardens, blending his own design with that of Curtis. The gardens of Thuya Lodge continue to be maintained for the public, where a memorial plaque celebrating the contributions of Curtis can still be seen today.