116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The wedding guests who gathered at the Montauk mansion in northeast Iowa in 1903 likely walked across a beautiful, two-tone blue rug — bordered by rust with gold and green flowers — in the music room.
The wedding was for Charles B. Robbins and Helen Larrabee, the youngest daughter of former Iowa Gov. William and Anna Appelman Larrabee, who built the 14-room mansion atop a hill in Clermont in 1874.
The Savonnerie rug was woven in France and imported to Iowa, where it was placed in the music room when Montauk was built. It eventually wore out and replacing it in 1983 took some statewide cooperation.
The Larrabees named their home after Montauk Point in New York, a place familiar to Anna’s father, a noted sea captain.
Larrabee was elected to the Iowa Senate in 1867 after helping organize the Republican Party in Iowa following the Civil War. He was elected Iowa’s 13th governor in 1886, serving two terms.
Larrabee planted the pine forest surrounding the mansion and several flower gardens.
The music room
Since music was an integral part of the Larrabee family’s life, the mansion’s music room was filled with instruments — a Steinway piano, banjo, violin, cornet, mandolin and cello — and a Swiss music box.
The Larrabees were “very fond of music,” according to a 1911 Gazette story about their golden wedding anniversary.
“Mrs. Larrabee began the study of music at the age of nine years,” The Gazette reported. “Her beautiful little rosewood melodeon (an organ) is the most treasured treasure in the music room at the home of her daughter, Mrs. C.B. Robbins of Cedar Rapids.
“In their earlier days, both Mr. and Mrs. Larrabee sang a great deal, and Mr. Larrabee played flute and cello.”
Gov. Larrabee died on Nov. 16, 1912, at Montauk, where his funeral service was held, remarkably with no flowers or music.
The Larrabee family
Anna Appelman Larrabee continued to live at Montauk after her husband’s death.
She hosted family gatherings for holidays and other family celebrations, including one for her 74th birthday in 1916. Doubtless, music was played for the occasion. C.B. Robbins, her son-in-law, was the only one of the family who couldn’t attend. As captain of a military company from Cedar Rapids, he was in Brownsville, Texas, during the U.S. border dispute with Mexico.
When Helen Larrabee Robbins died in 1919, Judge Robbins sent his three children to live at Montauk with their grandmother.
The estate’s last resident, daughter Anna Larrabee, died in 1965 at age 97.
After that death, the family offered Montauk to the state, but the state wasn’t interested. The family formed a nonprofit, the Historical Governor Larrabee Home Inc., and operated it as a museum, with Henry Follett as the site manager.
“We thrived,” Follett said. “We established a public historic site and became one of the five principal historic sites in northeast Iowa.”
The other four sites were the Bily Clocks Museum in Spillville, the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Effigy Mounds near Marquette and the Little Brown Church in Nashua.
In 1975, the Larrabees’ granddaughter and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. A.W. Allen, again offered Montauk to the state. The gift included the mansion, 45 acres, outbuildings, a four-bedroom caretaker cottage, and a church and bank building/museum in Clermont.
This time, the state accepted the gift.
An Oct. 3, 1976, a ceremony at the mansion acknowledged its transfer to the State Historical Department. The former governor’s grandson, William Larrabee III of Los Angeles, presented the keys to Lt. Gov. Arthur Neu.
Since then, the state has managed the home as an 19th century home museum.
Replacing the rug
Upkeep of the mansion was constant, and the Savonnerie rug in the music room, after more than a century of use, was showing its age.
In 1982, a 1923 French-knotted rug remarkably similar to the Montauk rug was donated to the Terrace Hill Society, the private group that raises funds for restoration and upkeep of the governor’s mansion in Des Moines.
The rug, which had belonged to the Maytag family of Newton, was too big to fit any room at Terrace Hill, so the Terrace Hill administrator suggested the rug be loaned to Montauk.
The rug — 13 feet, 7 inches by 20 feet, 6 inches — was transferred to Montauk in 1983 and installed in the music room, where it was roped off to avoid foot traffic.
The loan was supposed to be for two years, but the rug remained in place. In 1997, the Montauk historical site bought the rug from the Terrace Hill Society.