116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
On a summer day in 1943, on the heights of Arlington Cemetery overlooking Washington, D.C., Col. Charles Burton Robbins was buried with full military honors.
When Robbins died, Gazette editor Harry Boyd wrote, 'He was an American to the core, a fighting patriot who took seriously the obligation to defend his country and its ideals not only in time of war but in the peacetime intervals when so many others forgot it.
'Although his influence was felt in many other fields, it was the military that dominated his interests. Even in the blissful days of the middle '20s, when war had been ‘outlawed' by international agreement, he was among the few realists who labored to build the nation's defenses on a stronger foundation. How different the course of recent American history might have been if there had been more like him!”
Wounded in action
Charles Robbins was born in 1877 in Hastings, Iowa, where he went spent his early years. After the family moved to Lincoln, Neb., in 1893, both parents died and Robbins was sent to a private school in Long Island, N.Y.
Soon after graduating from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 1898, Robbins volunteered to serve with the Nebraska Infantry in the Spanish-American War. Shortly after his company left San Francisco for the Philippines, he received his commission as a lieutenant.
On March 27, 1899, Robbins was severely wounded in the battle of Marilao and was cited for gallantry in action. He was discharged with the rank of captain.
Robbins, described as 6 feet tall with brown hair and gray-blue eyes, returned to the University of Nebraska for postgraduate courses. He traveled the world before entering Columbia Law School, where he enlisted with the New York National Guard.
Returns to Iowa
In September 1903, Robbins returned to Iowa to begin his career in insurance law with the Cedar Rapids firm of Grimm, Trewin & Moffit. He also married Helen Larrabee of Clermont, daughter of Iowa Gov. William Larrabee.
The Robbinses moved into their Cedar Rapids home, 'Villa Callista,” at 1932 First Ave. They hosted many gatherings there and raised their three children: Anna, Julia and Lewis.
One neighborhood child, Mamie, decided one day that the Robbins porch needed cleaning. Years later, as the wife of then-Maj. Dwight Eisenhower, Mamie met Assistant Secretary of War Robbins at a party in Washington.
'I'll bet you don't remember me,” she said.
'Oh, yes I do,” Robbins replied. 'You're the girl who scrubbed our front porch!”
A Respected Judge
Gov. Beryl F. Carroll appointed Robbins to the Cedar Rapids Superior Court in 1909. During the next 10 years, he was instrumental in establishing a juvenile court and served with the Iowa National Guard.
As a judge, Robbins was well-respected. A Gazette article in 1923 said, 'His record as a judge was in conformity with his record as a soldier and citizen, characterized by ability, discrimination and foresight.”
He even went so far as to become arbiter for the city's newsboys. Beginning in January 1919, the boys would gather every Saturday in the superior courtroom to tell their troubles. While deciding their disputes, Robbins gave the youngsters pep talks on character.
Called to serve again
When the U.S. entered World War I, Robbins helped organize Battery E in Cedar Rapids and went to Camp Cody, N.M., with the rank of major and as adjutant to Brig. Gen. H.A. Allen.
After the war, he became a major in the Reserves and later a colonel in the Officers Reserve Corps.
Active in the American Legion, he assisted in getting the Hanford Post started. He also was president of the Cedar Rapids Life Insurance Co. and director of Cedar Rapids National Bank and Cedar Rapids Candy Co.
When Helen Robbins died unexpectedly in Boston in August 1919, her funeral was held at the home of her mother in Clermont. A special car was attached to the Rock Island train headed from Cedar Rapids to carry friends to the funeral. Among them were J.S. Ely, Harry Marshall and Glenn Averill. Several others, including the Walter Cherrys, Marvin Cone and Gen. H.A. Allen, traveled to Clermont by automobile.
‘Trail's End Cabin'
Robbins bought the slightly more than a thousand acres that remained of the George Matsell property around 1925. He erected a rustic summer retreat from logs cut on the land and stone quarried at Stone City. He named it 'Trail's End Cabin.” After he died, his son, Lewis, sold it to Cedar Rapids businessman Fred Witousek, whose widow sold it to Linn County for $100 an acre in 1967. The land became Linn County's Matsell Bridge Natural Area, and the cabin was rented to visitors as a lodge.
Robbins began a one-year term in Washington as assistant secretary of war in 1928 during the administration of President Calvin Coolidge.
Robbins died July 5, 1943, in Cedar Rapids at age 65. Services were held July 8 at First Presbyterian Church. The next day, the body was transported to Fort Myer, Va.
On July 10, after a brief service at the military chapel at Fort Myer, the body was taken to Arlington National Cemetery in a caisson drawn by six horses and escorted by a ceremonial detachment of troops, followed by relatives, friends and officials. The soldiers fired a volley, and Taps was sounded at the grave.