How The Family Behind Stuart’s Burn Brae Plantation And Krueger House Has Preserved The Historic Home’s Legacy
There’s one in every family—including yours. We’re lucky to have these relatives, as they add even more meaning, memories and depth to family gatherings.
They are the family historians, who honor their craft—or really, their calling—in many manifestations. They’re the niece or nephew who makes a college project of discovering their roots by retracing the family’s immigrant odyssey. They’re the cousin who preserves slides from the old Kodak Carousel or digitizes that forgotten silent family footage rediscovered on a discarded Super 8. They’re the aunt and uncle who—even before the Internet era—channeled their inner Woodward and Bernstein and tracked back the family genealogy.
How many more gaps would pockmark our individual understanding of our families without the contributions of these self-appointed archivists? From a collective community standpoint, the same can be said of Billy and Anne Stimmell—who as the owners and keepers of the stunning Burn Brae Plantation (aka The Krueger House)—preserve a part of Stuart’s earliest past that would otherwise exist only in precious few historical pictures.
Whether you’ve marveled at Burn Brae walking through it during a home tour or admired its stately presence driving past it on East Ocean, surely you can agree: We’re richer as residents because the Stimmells embraced what truly is a labor of love. We’re fortunate, too, as it’s a task they almost didn’t take on—not intentionally, anyway.
“I didn’t use to be (a history buff),” Anne (Krueger) Stimmell says. “I was going to have a Spanish-style house—with stucco, low maintenance, low maintenance, low maintenance. I wanted nothing to do with antiques.”
THE DUDE COMETH
The Krueger House bears a distinction even few other Stuart historical homes can claim.
“When you look at our area—which is really 1880s to the present—there are historical homes,” says Alice Luckhardt, Stuart historian. “Look at the Kitching House on Atlanta Avenue. It’s a beautiful house. There’s a lot of upkeep and it’s costly, but they rent it out now to businesses. The Krueger House is even more unique. It’s the one place that still has had the same family—direct lineage—live in it all those years. It’s never been a business. Even the furniture—not everything, but a lot of pieces throughout the house—have been there for decades and decades and decades and used by generations.”
Back in the late 1800s, a young Albert Rudolph E. Krueger left his hometown of Potsdam, outside of Berlin in Germany, by ocean liner for New York City and eventually, his originally intended destination of Potsdam (renamed Stuart in 1895). His friend Ed Glutsch encouraged him to make the journey and experience this “little bit of earthly paradise” on the St. Lucie River.
At the time of Krueger’s arrival in 1887, only about 10 other settlers lived here. Still, all riverfront property was claimed. Krueger found a spot farther away with a spring-fed creek. Living on this “borrowed” property in a two-room shack, he farmed pineapples on the 80 acres for a year before buying it all for $1.25 an acre. Rather dapper in his Derby hats and fancy starched white shirts, locals nicknamed Krueger “The Dude.”
FALLING IN LOVE
The solitude of settler life eventually brought down the spirits of The Dude, who was lonely for a wife. Lending a hand to a neighbor in need would soon lead him to the woman whose hand he’d ask for in marriage.
Krueger family legend recounts that after rowing across the river to help repair a boat engine belonging to Benjamin Hogg, he spotted and was smitten by Annie Donaldson Kincaid Speirs, Hogg’s niece. A native of Glasgow, Scotland, Annie arrived in Potsdam in 1891 to work as a school teacher.
On March 6, 1893, the couple traveled by boat to Episcopal Church at Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Lake Worth for their wedding. Dedicated and devoted, Krueger built his bride Burn Brae—meaning “house on a hill by the water.” It was completed in either 1895 (the same year a freeze moved Krueger off pineapples and onto farming citrus) or 1904. The official records are unclear. But eventually, Burn Brae would serve as home to the couple’s daughter, Janet Theresa, and three sons, Karl John, Albert Paul and George Peter.
Stimmell didn’t know either of her great grandparents. Krueger died in 1922, Annie in 1946. Albert Paul—her Uncle Bert—lived in the home with her Aunt Madeline and cousin Paul. She remembers childhood visits.
“It was very dark,” she says of the house. “There were a lot of dark curtains. I remember sitting down on a leather couch—and then being in the backyard and watching films on a projector that he would project on the side of the house.”
While Stimmell never imagined a day when she’d call the house her own, her father, Karl Krueger Jr., (son of Karl John), recognized the importance of keeping the home in the family. He always asked his cousin, Paul, for first right of refusal if they ever planned to put the home on the market.
In 1996, Karl bought the home from his cousin. The next year, the family launched the home clean-up effort. They filled 110 bags and two 20-yard construction dumpsters with waste and debris. They discovered some unique relics along the way, including an old tea cart, a pie safe, old trunks in the attic filled with World War I memorabilia—including a live grenade.
RIGORS OF RESTORATION
Reclaiming the original glory of the Krueger House commanded a commitment that extended far beyond anything associated with your typical house rehab or remodeling project. This was historical restoration—“returning a historic structure to its appearance at a particular time or period.” The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation govern the materials and methods of repair. Simply put, it includes:
- replacement using like materials
- repair using the gentlest means possible
- preserving historic features
- ensuring any new additions don’t compromise the historic integrity
Upgrading plumbing and electrical wiring topped the list of allowed improvements.
“We put bathtubs from 1910 back in the bathroom,” Stimmell says. “There’s no outhouse.”
Other modern upgrades included an air conditioner and ceiling fans.
“We did have ceiling fans where there were already outlets,” Stimmell says.
Burn Brae was among the earliest few houses in Stuart to get electricity. Before that, the house was lit by carbide gas lights. It was powered by a generator, “that was a tank,” Stimmell says, and stored far away from the house.
The house spans 3,600 square feet. A shellac-like coating covered the interior, Stimmell says, turning everything a dark and dismal shade. It had to go. So, in May of 1998, they went after it with a sandblaster. To minimize harm, they relied on reusable plastic beads, commonly applied on metal, as a mild abrasive. Although gentle enough, it generated clouds of dust and hindered progress. Silica sand—some 11,500 pounds—provided the right touch.
“The silica sand was magic,” Stimmell says. Followed by seals and waxing, the wooden walls and floors reclaimed their gorgeous finish.
Starting in February 2003, the exterior got similar treatment. Working full time, a three-person crew applied a peel-away stripper that Stimmell describes as a “basically lye paste.” The exterior was scraped away, washed with water and neutralized with vinegar-like acetic.
“It was naked,” Stimmell says. “No one has seen the house like that in 100 years.”
Completed in November, the nine-month job produced 184 5-gallon buckets of hazardous waste—lead paint and lye paste—which filled 6 pallets and totaled 8,640 pounds.
In January 2004, the Stimmells added a design element that’s among the house’s most distinguishing features—arguably besides the wraparound veranda—and the practical benefits were realized mere months later when Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne blew into town.
“We decided to put shutters up, and they would be green,” Stimmell says. “Thank goodness we did—as most of the glass in this house is thin—wavy thin.”
The shutters protected the windows, and the structural design and construction held fast.
“It may have been 100 years ago,” Stimmell says, “but these people knew something about building. Every time we’d get one of Frances’ gusts, we heard pops and knock and creaks. There was a little water intrusion. But it reminded me of an old boat—it swelled up. There’s no plaster to damage. No insulation to damage.”
ENDURING GARDEN OF DELIGHTS
A former Martin County school teacher, Stimmell works as the systems manager for a commercial real estate agency. Billy Stimmell owns Stimmell’s Sports Shop, which specializes in silkscreen and embroidery. Like a lot of homeowners, the Stimmells dedicate the weekends to housework and lawn maintenance—and the latter includes some of the very citrus trees, peach trees and passion vines The Dude himself tended to.
“We have a very, very old avocado tree that I believe is an original,” Stimmell says. “We have what’s called a rough lemon. We still have the old mangos. The magnolia was 100 years old when it died in the hurricanes. I tried to plant pineapples, but I don’t do as well as my grandfather did. There’s an old guava out back. I don’t know if he planted it or a bird did.”
Burn Brae is a hit on the home tour—and enchants students on field trips. Stimmell recalls a busload of Bessy Creek second- and third-graders visiting one year. While one group played with Hula-Hoops on the lawn, the others explored the inside. The kids later sent her thank-you letters. She couldn’t quite make out the word one letter writer invented when describing his favorite details—until she decrypted it as a reference to the Rosenthal in her china cabinet, which looks like a large purple diamond.
“Of all the things the littles picked up on,” she says.
There’s a lot to take in. Historical phones, 100-year-old china, silverware dating back just as far.
“It’s kind of like a family museum,” Stimmell says. “I have an old photograph of my buffet sitting right where it sits today.”
Although she stops short of revealing how much she and Billy have invested in the home, she admits it’s nonrecoverable.
“I’ll never see it,” she says. “This house will never be sold.” Even still, she says, it’s well worth it, as she can’t imagine any other outcome for the house.
“I certainly didn’t want to see someone remodel it and turn it into a bed-and-breakfast, like everyone wanted to do,” she says. “It’s our family home—it’s beautiful.”