The Wonder House— Polk County’s historic castle

The Wonder House | Photo via @merineitsi

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Nestled on two acres of land in Bartow is the Wonder House, a four-story stone + steel construction built by Conrad Schuck and his nine children in the ‘20s. 

Conrad, a contractor and quarry dealer living in Pittsburgh, packed up his family and moved to sunny Bartow in the 1920s after being told by doctors that he didn’t have much time left to live. Inspired to leave a legacy after his passing, Conrad set to building the home of his dreams, using his background in building and geology to his advantage.

This expertise proved handy when Conrad discovered the land he was building on was rich with bedrock. A shortage of good wood in the 1920s and a desire to use the land he was cultivating led to Conrad making his own mixture using concrete, steel rails + scrap metal. To this day, the concrete mixture he made has not cracked. 

Despite living another 40 years and working continuously on the Wonder House, Conrad and his family never actually moved into their labor of love. Instead, Conrad hosted tours of the house as it progressed through various stages of construction and completeness

Here are some of our favorite fun facts regarding the mysterious + mystical house:

  • Conrad never drew up blueprints for the house, it was completed entirely from scratch using only his mind’s eye. Blueprints were eventually completed 11 years later, in 1937. 
  • Originally, the property was 14 acres. Conrad used the property to grow produce and keep livestock, including goats. Over the years, the property was sold off in parcels and now remains at 2 acres.  
  • The Wonder House’s walls are 18 inches thick in some places. 
  • Conrad was known for collecting unique trinkets and oddities and displaying them proudly, including snakes in jars, taxidermy, and at one point even a coffin.
  • Most of the construction was done by hand by Conrad’s children. According to an interview with one of his sons, Conrad insisted on the kids using chisels and hammers to dig out the basements, despite newer tools + technology being available.

In addition to having a knack for building, Conrad was also an innovator of design and technology. The house was designed in a cross shape, with each room opening up to two porches that also had hollow rain-collecting columns, creating a cross draft and cooling insulation

Following Conrad’s run as the home’s main proprietor, the property was purchased by the DuCharme family in 1963, who installed central air and completed the remaining construction. For the first time since its construction in 1926, the home was inhabited. 

Lucy DuCharme, a Minnesota native who moved to Bartow in adulthood, was known for high-end entertaining. She hosted dignitaries, politicians, and diplomats and was often seen in full-length gowns, white gloves, and eccentric hats. Present owner Drew Davis once described her as “a good Cruella Deville.”

Bartow’s “good Cruella” hosted Christmas tours of the mansion up until her death in 1999. Following Lucy’s death, the house passed hands a few times, often winding up abandoned, until it was purchased in 2015 for $162,750 by current owners Drew Davis + Krislin Kreis. 

Drew and Krislin, who first visited the house on their second date, moved into the home in 2016, but that doesn’t mean it’s finished. The pair is still actively restoring the 20 room mansion to Conrad’s original vision. Upon moving in, the structure was devoid of furniture, electricity, and proper plumbing. 

Like their fellow Wonder House owners, Drew and Krislin are in the business of hosting tours at the Wonder House. Since they receive no local, state, or government funding for the renovation, their efforts to restore the home to its original glory are privately funded, in part by Halloween and Christmas tours

To get an up-close and personal glimpse of the fabled mansion and hear stories of secret chambers, tunnels, inventions, and old original relics returning to the house, consider booking a tour for the holidays. Be warned: these tickets fly off the shelves, so we can’t guarantee that any will be available at the time you check. The good news? There is a waitlist, so sign up there if tickets are sold out. 

Want to peek inside but can’t snag a ticket? Check out Florida Men on Florida Man’s episode titled “The Wonder House,” which they recorded in the home with Drew and Krislin. You can watch the recording on YouTube or listen to it wherever podcasts are played. (Did we mention Drew tells a ghost story that took place in the house?)

Additionally, you can check out the episode titled “House of Ruins, Racer’s Pad, House of Oddities” on Netflix’s 2017 original series Amazing Interiors.

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