Parks and Recreation Image

Juneau-Douglas City Museum

Blackwell, Vance and Henrietta

by Mike Blackwell

Henrietta Sell was born in Red Lodge, Montana in 1904. Her father was a hardware and automobile dealer. After graduating from high school, she studied fine arts at the University of Wyoming and then went to work for the U.S. Forest Service in Missoula. In 1931, she transferred to Juneau.

Vance Blackwell was born in South Dakota in 1906. His father was a veterinarian with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the family lived in stockyard towns of the West, including Yankton, South Dakota, Kalispell, and finally Portland, where Vance attended high school. He studied civil engineering at Oregon State College, but took several years off to work first as an engineer on tugs on the Columbia River, and then as a surveyor with the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads.

In 1927, he took a seasonal job with the BPR in Hyder and after finishing at OSC, in 1930, he returned to Alaska as a full-time employee of the BPR in Ketchikan, Hyder, Hoonah, and elsewhere. Some of his early BPR projects included the Snow River Bridge near Kenai Lake, extension of the North Tongass Highway near Ketchikan, and the road from Hyder to Premier.

Vance and Henrietta were married in 1935. Their son, Mike, was born in Juneau in 1937. Until the start of World War II, the family lived the engineer’s life--construction seasons in Moose Pass, Hoonah, Sitka, Hyder, Kake, but returning to Juneau for the winters.

Vance served in the Army in the Aleutians during World War II, chiefly on Amchitka and Attu. He was Operations Officer for the 813th Engineer Battalion, and was responsible for construction of the airfield on Amchitka. During the war, Henrietta worked for the Office of Price Administration in Juneau and later for the Territorial Legislature. After the war, Vance was assigned to office positions with the BPR, so they acquired a house on 11th St, a cabin on Lena Cove, a boat, and a car.

In 1953, Vance joined the U.S. Forest Service and served as Regional Civil Engineer for the Tongass Forest in Juneau. He later transferred to USFS headquarters in Portland.

Their community activities and interests in Juneau were broad-chiefly the Cub and Boy Scouts, Holy Trinity Church, and The Alaska Arts & Crafts Fair. Art was important in the family, and, from about 1951, they had one of the first kilns in Juneau. Henrietta was the potter and Vance the operating engineer.

Henrietta died in 1982, Vance in 1995.

Mike is a retired engineer, living in Juneau.

Amchitka, 1944.

Auke Lake, 1939.