Huntley Businessman Drowns on the Alpena in October of 1880

The fickle, fowl fall weather on Lake Michigan has claimed numerous lives over the years. One Huntley man was just such a victim.

Adonijah Blanchard, an active and admired businessman, ran milk and cheese processing plants in the Huntley area as early as 1866. He also bought and sold horses, a necessity in the late 1800s.

In October of 1880 his business travels took him across Lake Michigan. His daughter Maude would meet him in Chicago on the return trip and bring him back to Huntley.

From their family home on Woodstock Street, seventeen-year-old Maude Blanchard made her way into the big city of Chicago on October 16, 1880, to meet her father who was returning from a horse-trading deal.

Adonijah Blanchard was scheduled to arrive on the Alpena, a side-wheeled steamship that was to cross Lake Michigan from Grand Haven to Chicago. Maude waited the entire October day, but neither her father nor his ship ever arrived.

Although the prior day, October 15, was warm and glorious, a sudden, freak over-night storm pelted snow and sleet against the mid-lake ship, and temperatures dropped to 27 degrees below zero. The lake waters churned and tossed the ship, and the Alpena finally overturned in the 125-mile an hour wind. The ship was lost in what came to be known as The Big Blow. There were no survivors.

Adonijah Blanchard, listed as “an old and respected citizen of Huntley, Illinois,” was among the more than 100 souls lost. He was 48 years old. His body was never recovered. A grave marker in the Huntley Cemetery on Dean Street recalls his life.

The Alpena remains at the bottom of Lake Michigan. And Adonijah Blanchard’s tomb remains empty.

Headstone: Adonijah Blanchard, Lost on the Alpena, Oct. 16, 1880. Aged 48 Y’s, 8 M’s, 11 D’s