The Wonder House in Bartow was once a popular tourist attraction in post Depression-era Florida. Built by a man who thought he was dying, the magnificent mansion was later abandoned until restoration began in 2016.
In the 1920s, Conrad Schuck, a Pittsburgh building contractor and stone quarry dealer was told he only had a year left to live. But if he moved to a warmer climate, the doctors told him, he might be able to extend his life by another year or two. So he moved to the Sunshine State with his wife and nine children.
To keep himself occupied, Schuck decided to build his dream home. Construction began in 1926. Discovering that the house was sitting on bedrock, and knowing that good wood was scarce at the time, he decided to build the whole thing out of concrete reinforced with steel rails bought from a railroad company. The plan was to build a four-story mansion, with walls 18 inches thick at the ground level.
Considering his short life expectancy, it was an ambitious project indeed. But 13 years later, Schuck and his sons were still working on what would become known as the Wonder House. Passersby would marvel at the two concrete bridges, each spanning 30 feet, which led up to the house over a pond stocked with koi carp. Then there was the house itself, an 18-room structure with four stories.
An architectural marvel of its time, the mansion was designed in the shape of a cross, with each room opening onto two porches. This allowed a cross draft throughout the interior, keeping the whole building cool. The concrete walls of the interior were decorated with glass and tile, and hand carvings and mosaics added to the sense of wonder.
Striving for both innovation and a charming eccentricity, Shuck built concrete channels into the structure to gather rainwater, which served to cool the house and water the plants that grew all across the exterior. He even included a fishpond on the third-floor porch.
Justifiably proud of what he had achieved, Shuck opened his home to the public in 1934, and it became a popular local tourist attraction for about 30 years. Visitors paid a dime to see the ponds and 25 cents to wander around the interior. The Wonderhouse was kept open for tours from 1934 to 1963.
And despite his bleak medical prognosis, Shuck went on to live to the ripe old age of 94.
After his death, the Wonder House passed through the hands of various owners, and a few stages of abandonment. By 2015, it had fallen into a state of disrepair, and its future remained uncertain. But when it was purchased in an online auction that same year, its new owner, attorney Drew Davis, stated his intention to return the mansion to its former glory. And while that will likely take many years, the Wonder House does at least appear to be in good hands once again.
Know Before You Go
The Wonder House is available for historic tours by online advance reservations only. Be sure to check the official website for more information.