William J. Robinson
William J. Robinson, an engineer of some eighteen years' experience, and chief engineer of the C. R. Corwith estate building at Nos. 116-124 Market street, Chicago, was born in Montcalm county, Mich., in 1850 a son of Stephen and Mary (Stoneburner) Robinson, the former of whom was born in Scotland, the latter in Michigan, of Scotch ancestry. Prior to coming to America the father was a sailor on salt water, and while residing here he sailed on the lakes. His death occurred at Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1867. The mother has since become the wife of John Thompson, of German descent, who was also a saltwater sailor in early life, and afterward sailed on the lakes, following that pursuit for twenty-four years, became a practical seaman, and who is now residing on a fruit farm near White Lake, Mich. Our subject's paternal great-grandfather, Ritz Robinson, was an Indian trader, and was the first white settler on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, having trading posts at Grand Haven and Grand Rapids, Mich., where he traded in furs for many years. He married an Indian maiden, the daughter of the chief of the Ottawas, and died in Michigan.
In that State William J. Robinson spent his boyhood and youth, his education being mostly acquired at Grand Haven, where he also learned engineering. In 1875 he commenced sailing on fishing tugs out of that port, and engaged in all kinds of fishing for a time, being shipwrecked while on a fishing boat out of Grand Haven, after which he served an apprenticeship to the machinist's trade in the shops of Wilson & Henry, at Montague, Mich. He then became a licensed engineer, and was engineer of the T. W. Snook, engaged in the lumber business between Chicago and all Michigan ports, remaining on her three seasons. The following season he was engineer on the Charles A. Street, running from Chicago to Ashland and Buffalo; and assisted in the building of the barge H. C. Ackley, engaged in the ore trade between Escanaba and Grand Haven, which was lost off Grand Haven in 1878, only seven of the crew of fifteen men being saved. For three years he was engineer on tugs running along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan between Grand Haven, White Lake and other ports, followed by three years on the summer and winter boats of the Goodrich Transportation Company, including the City of Racine, and the City of Ludington. Going to Sheboygan, Wis., he fitted out the J. W. Johnston for the Shores Lumber Company, of Ashland, Wis., formerly the Powers, and remained on her one season. In 1893, or the World's Fair year, he was employed as engineer on one of the boats belonging to the World's Fair fleet, running from Van Buren street to the fair grounds, and the same year sailed the Fanny M. Rose, a pleasure yacht, on Spring lake, making trips from the summer resorts, Fruitport and the Springs to Grand Haven. He engaged in stationary work in Michigan, but the following year came to Chicago, and in February, 1896, accepted his present position.
At one time Mr. Robinson was a member of the Volunteer Life Savings Station at Grand Haven, and was fortunate in saving the life of E. B. Ward, a wealthy lumberman of Detroit, his life boat being an Indian Mackinac. Socially, he is a member of the Stationary Engineers Association, No. 3, of Chicago; Ottawa Lodge No. 26, and the Knights of the Maccabees, both of Grand Haven; and the Ancient Order of United Workmen at Grand Rapids.
In 1881, at Grand Rapids, Mr. Robinson was united in marriage with Miss Olivia Chaffee, a native of Kent county, Mich., and they are the parents of one daughter, May Edna.
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.