Kunze House

The birth of Joseph Kunze II on June 10, 1820 made for the fourth generation of Kunze’s to live near Reichenberg, Province of Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) in the Empire of Austria.  Great-grandfather, Michael Kunze owned a farm and lime kiln, which were passed on to his son, David, then to David’s son Joseph.  Joseph Kunze Sr. later expanded the family business into lumbering.  Joseph II owned the farm and was also skilled in the masonry and tile work trades.

At the age of 35, Joseph II immigrated to America, arriving in New York City in July 1855.  Whether the reason for leaving his homeland was economic, an interest in land, avoiding the military and wars in his homeland or religious ideals, it is not known, but Kunze filed his intent to become a citizen of the United States on December 8, 1856, fairly early when compared to other immigrants.

On September 10, 1855, Kunze purchased 30 acres of land for $200 in the Town of Newton, Manitowoc County, Wisconsin.  This land, located about one mile southeast of English Lake was heavily wooded with ash, pine, cedar, and tamarack trees.  The Kunze farm was located along the old military road or Green Bay Road, now State Highway 42.  Records at the Manitowoc County Courthouse indicate that Joseph and his wife purchased an additional 10 acres of land in 1857 from Ferdinand Seibt for $100. 

The Kunze House was built sometime between the years 1855 and 1860.  According to information from Kunze’s granddaughter, Althea Groth Wilson, there was as small log house on the land when Joseph purchased it and he lived in that until this house was built. 

This house is built of huge ash, cedar, and tamarack trees.  Both tamarack (which is a member of the pine family, but sheds its needles in winter) and cedar wood are resistant to moisture and do not decay easily.  A mixture of limestone, sand, and water known as chinking was used to seal the gaps between the logs to make the building weather tight.  The house also featured an attic and a cellar walled with large fieldstones.  The cellar had a dirt floor.  The older log home was then used as a barn until a larger barn was constructed.  The new barn had round cedar blocks about six inches or more in thickness imbedded in part of the floor.  The blocks were dug into the ground with the round surface of the cedar showing, creating a hard surface for keeping livestock.

In 1858, Maria Anna Kunze, Joseph’s wife, passed away.  Because of his age when he immigrated, it is likely that they were married in Bohemia, but information on the date of their marriage, her maiden name or other records have not been found to date.  Information given to the Society by members of a more recent generation of the Kunze family suggests that she may have died from a lack of proper nutrition. 

On March 31, 1860, Kunze married Christina (also called Christiana or Christine) Hacker.  Christina was born in Hemean, Germany, the daughter of Christoph and Fredericka Hagen Hacker.  Joseph and Christina had four children: Anna, born in 1876, died as an infant; Meta, born in 1863, died at age five; and twins, Martha and Bertha, born on May 10 and May 11, 1865, respectively.

In addition to farming, Kunze used his stone mason skills to help build homes and barns in the area.  He had an interest in politics and was town treasurer of Newton for 18 years.  He was also one of the organizers of the Newton Fire Department.  Kunze had the reputation of being helpful to German immigrants, including the children of his wife’s sister and young men who left Germany to escape military service.  One of these young men was Anton Huebner who later married Martha Kunze.  They had two children, Edwin and Olga.  Martha died in September of 1915.  Cause of death was listed as surgical shock.

In 1890, the Kunze’s sold the homestead to their daughter Bertha and her husband Fred Groth with the following stipulations: “The condition of this obligation is such that if Bertha Kunze shall well and truly pay or cause to be paid to Joseph Kunze during his natural lifetime each and every year $10 as pocket money, payable semiannually; and in the case of his death the sum of $5 shall be paid to Christina Kunze (his wife), each and every year during her lifetime.” 

Bertha Kunze shall deliver for the use of Christina and Joseph Kunze, the east half of the present dwelling house, use of cellar and passage way.” 

Bertha was also to “maintain and support” her parents during their lifetime and should they not be satisfied with the maintenance, and then she was to pay her parents “each and every year during their natural lifetime, $40.”  Another condition was that the “wood had to be furnished and splitted.”  Joseph Kunze died on November 5, 1895 and was interred at St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery in Newtonburg, Wisconsin.  Christina Kunze died on Christmas Day 1922 at the age of 91. 

Her death was noted on the front page of the Manitowoc Herald News.  She is buried, along with her daughter, Bertha, who died in 1932, at Evergreen Cemetery in the City of Manitowoc. 

Fred and Bertha Groth bought a larger, neighboring farm and sold the Kunze homestead to Herman Vetter on October 9, 1896.  The Kunze homestead was sold again in 1902 to Carol and Charles Baeckmann.  In 1953, it was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Gordon O’Leary.  On December 30, 1955, the homestead was purchased by Edgar and Althea Groth Wilson, the granddaughter of Joseph Kunze and daughter of Bertha Kunze Groth. 

The homestead was sold once again in 1969 to Robert and Emilie Luebke.  Robert Luebke, like Joseph Kunze, was a tile worker and volunteer firefighter for the Newton Fire Department.  The Luebke’s never used the building as a home and in 1976 donated the house to the Manitowoc County Historical Society with sponsorship from the Junior Service League of Manitowoc County. 

The Kunze House was moved to Pinecrest Historical Village in 1976.  Moving costs, the cost of repair and refurbishing, upkeep and maintenance was paid by the Junior Service League. 

The League did in-depth research on the house in order that the house could be furnished authentically for the period of 1860-1865. 

Even though Junior Service League sponsorship of the building officially ended in 1987, the group provided the funds for the replacement of decayed logs and re-chinking of the building in 1993-1994.

Bedrooms were located on the second floor of the home and were reached by a steep, narrow stairway.