This article was a sidebar to the main article on Red Oak Lodge published in the Cedar Rapids Gazette on 21 Feb, 1997
The beautiful but now decaying lodge at Linn County's Matsell Bridge Natural Area was built around 1925 by Col. Charles Robbins of Cedar Rapids.
The natural area itself is named for George Matsell, the first chief of police in New York City, who in 1853 acquired through a government grant 3,000 acres along the Wapsipinicon River in northeast Linn County. There he built a mansion that became one of the early showplaces of Eastern Iowa.
After Matsell died in 1877, his widow and four children, none of whom ever married, stayed at their Iowa estate. Before Matsell's son Gus died, he sold what remained of the estate to Robbins.
In 1903, Robbins married Helen Larrabee, the youngest daughter of Gov. William Larrabee, and in 1909, he was appointed to the superior court bench.
When Robbins bought the Matsell property about 1925, "the estate was badly run down," wrote Nancy Gibbons Zook in The Iowan. "Colonel Robbins modernized the farm and built a beautiful rustic cabin near the river."
"The logs were cut and debarked right on the property," said Harlan Doehrmann of Marion, who served as ranger at the park from 1972 to 1994. "Stone for the foundation and fireplace was quarried at Stone City and brought by horse and wagon."
Doehrmann said Robbins used the cabin as a summer retreat for many years.
After Col. Robbins' death, his son Lewis sold the remaining estate, 1,072 acres, to Cedar Rapids businessman Fred Witousek, whose widow sold the property to Linn County for $100 an acre in 1967.
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