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Fire Destroys Historic Brunk Home

The Joseph C. Brunk home, located at the Brunk Morgan Horse Museum, in Rochester, Illinois, was destroyed by fire in the early morning hours of May 27, 2005. The home that had housed five generations of the Brunk family beginning in 1829 was gutted by fire in a little over an hour.
A passerby notified 911 of the fire at approximately 2:30 a.m. and firemen from the Pawnee and Chatham fire departments responded and were at the scene by 2:45 a.m. The fire is suspected to have started after 2 a.m. in the second floor of the southeast wing. Firemen and family on the scene by 2:45 could only watch and prevent spread of the fire to adjacent structures as the home was fully engulfed in flame. Firemen remained on the scene until approximately 8 a.m. The furnishings had been removed, but the house contained historical artifacts primarily from the home itself and a collection of Morgan Horse magazines.
The home itself had been constructed of limestone from the family quarry that also provided the limestone for the base of the old state capitol building located on the square in neighboring Springfield. This is the time that Abraham Lincoln was practicing law in the Springfield area and family history indicates Lincoln to have been a family friend who visited and stayed in the home with friend George Brunk, Joseph¹s father. Search is underway to document not only the visits, but legal documents that may have made a direct connection through the limestone quarry.
Walls of the limestone first floor were 18 inches thick providing it with a natural heating and cooling effect. A fireplace was located on the north and south ends of the structure. The second story of the west wing of the home was constructed of brick and was added to the top of the limestone. An east wing to the home was constructed of oak and walnut wood, all forested from the property. The entire structure was covered with a cement stucco resembling blocks. All of the woodwork, including door frames, window frames, and interior wall closets reaching from ceiling to floor were of walnut harvested on the property. Recent archeological study has confirmed the above and other items associated with the property.
The Brunk home had been constantly in use until 1983 when Roy Brunk, son of Joseph C. Brunk died. The area that is in the vicinity of proposed Hunter Lake, was sold to the city of Springfield by Clara Brunk Mayes, granddaughter of Joseph and daughter of Roy in 1994. Due to an outcry of interested persons, a museum board was formed with the goal of establishing a museum to the Morgan horse and to bring forward the historical value and importance of agriculture and livestock in the Illinois heartland. The home, barn, and five acres were deeded to the Museum by the City of Springfield in 1995 when the museum was formed.
While renovation of the property has been constant since that time, the house itself had been boarded up to prevent further deterioration and outside maintenance had been done to preserve the two-story limestone, brick and frame home. Activity has continued in seeking assistance with the renovations of the home and barn both through Grants and private donations. Fortunately, the 1800s barn with its collection of harness and implements was left intact, as was the visitor¹s center to the north of the home, which houses most of the Museum¹s collection.
The shell of the home remains historically important as even more of the architectural integrity has been exposed. Plans are underway to determine how this tragedy can be transformed to provide an even more exciting and moving experience for the public as the Museum Board continues their quest with the remaining remnants of the home, the intact 1800s barn with its artifacts, and the addition of exhibits and activities to bring the property to life as it was in the mid to late 1800s. Numerous ideas have already come to light, one of which is restoring only the limestone first floor of the structure. These ideas will be investigated fully and determinations made on how to progress with the reconstruction, at future Board meetings. The Museum remains open to the public.
The Brunk Farmstead was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 17, 1999 and is a tax exempt 501-C-3 Charity. Donations are welcome and may be sent to the Brunk Morgan Horse Museum, c/o Lois McDermand, Secretary, 7221 Lake Service Road, Rochester, Illinois 62563

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