At the edge of West Laramie, on the way to the Snowy Range, there is an unfinished stone house noticed by everyone who goes by, though they can only guess at its history.
The unique stone house with steeply pointed gable ends is now a focal point on the property of Stone House Stables. It has inspired many stories over the years. Most of them are pure fantasy.
Its builder, Robert Clinton “Robin” Corthell (1891-1978), was one of seven children of Nellis E. and Eleanor Quackenbush Corthell. Robin spent his early childhood in the family home at 815 Grand Avenue, and then moved with the family to the Corthell farm in West Laramie in 1910.
After high school Robin studied art and law at schools in or near Chicago. However, he was restless, joined the Illinois National Guard, and was sent with the troops to Mexico to pursue Pancho Villa. In May, 1917, he enlisted in the US Marines and served in the Dominican Republic before being sent to France to serve in the “Great War” of his generation.
With the Sixth Regiment of the US Marines, Robin was in the famous battle of Belleau Wood about 60 miles east of Paris where on July 19, 1918, the Marines were pinned down in a wheat field. A letter from his sister Gladys to his brother Irving relays Robin’s descriptions: “He says that his helmet felt like a postage stamp. Blistering hot day, no water, no sleep, terrible fire of shells – streams of wounded going to the rear – others screaming for shade and water – dying right before him – tanks being blown up or deserted all around him.”
While waiting for dark, he could endure the cries of the wounded no longer, so he carefully crawled to an abandoned tank in the hope of finding water inside it that he could bring back. He found no water but did find an operable machine gun that he turned on the German troops. In the battle he was injured in one leg and exposed to mustard gas.
In September, 1918, Robin was in the St. Mihiel offensive where he received severe shrapnel wounds from a bursting shell. He nearly died, but after a long time in French hospitals, he recovered enough to come home to Laramie. In July, 1919, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government for his bravery at Belleau Wood. A major in the US Marines came from Denver to present the award in a ceremony held in the auditorium at UW.
Robin started building the stone house in the early 1930s as a home for his wife Frances McPhee Corthell of Laramie, and their young children. His son Alan “Corky” Corthell says that Robin made the stone walls sturdy to withstand the Wyoming winds. He had the wooden roof on it when some kids from town set it afire.
Before he could resume work on it, Robin’s mother died and he moved his family to the Corthell farmhouse (still standing at 1969 Jefferson St. in West Laramie) to help his father. Robin was a fine landscape and portrait artist and at one time thought the stone house could become his art studio, but it was never completed.
He and his brother Irving operated the farm until their father died and then Robin took a drafting course at UW sponsored by Boeing. In 1944 he accepted a job with Boeing and moved with his wife and five children to Seattle where he lived for the rest of his life. Both Robin and Frances Corthell are buried in Greenhill Cemetery.
So the mystery house was never intended as a church and it wasn’t haunted—it just never got finished, but those sturdy stone walls endure.
By Ann Mullens Boelter
Caption: At the west edge of Laramie on private property along Highway 130 stands the mysterious stone house. Intended as a home and later as an art studio, it was never finished by its builder, WWI veteran Robin Corthell. Though severely injured, he survived a battle in France in which 1,811 US soldiers were killed, the most in US Marine history at the time. Courtesy Photo by Ann Boelter