Robert S. Blauvelt
Robert S. Blauvelt, one of the most scientific marine engineers navigating on fresh or salt water, has been a resident of Buffalo only a short time. He is the son of Cornelius and Lena (Stomler) Blauvelt, and was born in Algonac, Mich., in 1865. His father, a marine engineer of forty years' experience, is still active in the engineering business at Algonac.
The subject of this sketch attended the public schools of his native town until he was twelve years of age, after which he took a business course at the college of Bryant & Stratton. On completing his school education he occupied his boyhood days, usually passed by lads of his age in play, around the engines and machinery of his fathers' tugs in Algonac, and became so imbued with the desire of following up that branch of industry that he went down to Detroit and entered the employ of Samuel F. Hodge in order that he might learn the machinist's trade under the eyes of a master. After thoroughly learning the trade he went to Oscoda, Mich., and shipped as master of the tug Dave and Mose. In the spring of 1883 he purchased an interest in the tug Allie May, and sailed her, towing between Oscoda and Au Sable. He remained ashore during the early months of 1884, but toward the close of the season shipped as assistant engineer on the tug William B. Castle, and in 1885-86 occupied the same position on the steamer James P. Donaldson. During the winters of these years he worked in the shop of the Frontier Iron Works, and while in this employ they built the machinery of the propeller Oconto, afterward sunk in Niagara river; Mr. Blauvelt ran her for about two months after her machinery was placed in position. In the spring of 1887 he was appointed chief engineer on the steamer Sitka, of the Wilson Transit line, and that winter entered the employ of Christy & DeGraf, a well known firm of Detroit. In 1888, upon the invitation of Capt. Alexander McDougall, he went to Duluth, Minn., as superintending engineer, put the machinery into the first steam monitor Colgate Hoyt, and ran her that season. During the winter months he took charge of the engine department of the American Steel Barge Company's plant in Duluth.
In 1889 Mr. Blauvelt also put the machinery into the monitor J. L. Colby, and took her down to Boston by way of the St. Lawrence river, shooting the rapids, and arriving at that seaport with his boat in good condition. She plied for some time between Boston, Baltimore and New York. In August he was recalled to take charge of the machinery of the monitor C. W. Wetmore, which he took down to Philadelphia and around Cape Horn to Everett, on Puget Sound. The success or failure of this passage was commented on very widely, the knowing ones asserting that she was not seaworthy, and that she would never be heard from again. She left Philadelphia September 19, 1889, making good weather on the passage around the Horn, and good speed until she encountered a terrific storm off the Columbia river, in Oregon, the velocity of the wind being reported by the officers of the weather bureau to be 103 miles per hour. Here the monitor lost her rudder plates, but rode out the storm while in a helpless condition. The steamer Zambesa, passing, gave them a line and towed the boat to Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia river, where the rudder was repaired. She then proceeded on her way to Everett, arriving there December 6, 1889.
On March 7, 1890, he left the Wetmore and returned to West Superior, to which city the American Steel Barge Company's plant had been removed, and again took charge of the engine department as superintending engineer. During the time he held this office he put the machinery into the monitors Pathfinder, Pillsbury, Washburn, Thomas Wilson, James B. Colgate, Samuel Mather, E. B. Bartlett, A. D. Thompson and Christopher Columbus, and brought them out on trial trips.
In 1893-94 our subject remained on the Christopher Columbus, taking her to Chicago, and engineering her in the passenger and excursion business during the World's fair, for which purpose she had been admirably constructed. She also plied between Chicago and Milwaukee. In the fall of 1894 he tendered his resignation to the Steel Barge Comany, and returned to the Pacific coast to place the electric plant and machinery in the steamer City of Everett, which he ran in the passenger and freight business in connection with the Panama Railroad Company. He remained on her through the season of 1895, plying between San Francisco and Panama. In the spring of 1896 Mr. Blauvelt removed to Buffalo, and was appointed chief engineer of the steel steamer Centurion, of 3,402 tons burden, owned by the Hopkins Steamship Company. He laid her up in Buffalo harbor at the close of navigation, and during the winter of 1896-97, he was appointed chief engineer of the steamship North Land, of the Northern Steamship Company, and finished the running season. In 1898 he retired from sea life, and accepted a position with the American Sugar Refining Company, of New York. He was fifteen issues of engineer's license, which include license for ocean-going steamers, and three issues of pilot license.
In June, 1895, Mr. Blauvelt was wedded to Miss Minona Lewis, of Springfield, Maine, the ceremony being performed in Seattle, Wash. Two children, Althea Minona and Roberta Victoria, have been born to this union.
Return to Home Port
This version of Volume II is based, with permission, on the work of the great volunteers at the Marine Captains Biographies site. To them goes the credit for reorganizing the content into some coherent order. The biographies in the original volume are in essentially random order.
Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.