Octagon House

O ctagonal shaped structures have been built for centuries. The oldest octagonal or eight-sided building known is the Tower of the Winds built by the Romans about 300 BC. Centuries ago, octagon shaped buildings were popular in Italy.

There were many octagonal buildings, especially churches, in Holland in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was natural then that the Dutch who settled New York State should build churches, homes and schools in their style. The Hudson River Valley had many such buildings. There were twenty Dutch Reformed churches in the Valley. Toll houses in that style were built in Pennsylvania, and barns, carriage houses, schools, and even a blacksmith shop were found in eastern states. The cupolas found in most houses were useful on the sea coast where wives could watch for the return of their husband’s fishing boats.

Octagon Style 1850-1860

I n 1848, Orson Squire Fowler (1809-1887), a native of the Genesee Country village of Cohocton, published A Home for All, or a New, Cheap, Convenient, and Superior Mode of Building in which he announced that the octagon house, with its eight sides, enclosed more space than a square one with equal wall space. The octagonal form had been used in public buildings in the past, but now as a concept for domestic architecture, it had a dedicated and convincing champion.

Fowler’s books, stressing the functional and stylistic advantages of the octagon house, found many readers and several hundred followers who sprinkled the landscape from New England to Wisconsin with eight-sided houses, barns, churches, schoolhouses, carriage houses, garden houses, smokehouses and privies.

According to Historical Record. by Patricia S. Whitesell ,

Fowler was a phrenologist, making a name for himself by deciphering the contours and bumps on the human head. He lectured and published widely on such topics as «Memory and Intellectual Inspiration» (1841) and «Matrimony; or Phrenology Applied to the Selection of Companions» (1842).

Fowler’s creative idea for an octagon house came to him while contemplating a design for his own home. He wondered why there had been so little advancement in architectural design, particularly given the preponderance of scientific advancements. Looking for a radical change in house style, Fowler questioned why the spherical form that is predominant in nature was not employed in architecture. The constraint of right angles for the framing of houses was the obvious reason. Fowler thought «Why not have our houses six-, eight-, 12- or 20-sided? Why not build after some mathematical figure?» The solution: the octagon.

Some online buildings:

  • 1952 list of New York State octagon buildings
  • Hyde House at the Genesee Country Village & Museum
  • The Octagon Hous e An 1856 Landmark of Camillus, N.Y.
  • Ann Arbors octagon house

    Rich Twinn Octagon House

    T he Octagon House in Akron was built in 1849 by Charles B. Rich. It has had only three other individual owners. They were

    • Charles A Clark, who purchased it from Mr. Rich in 1868 and owned it until 1882. He was superintendent of the Jebb Cement Works, once an important local industry. He received an appointment to the Pension Office and went to Washington, DC. to live.
    • Uriah Cummings rented the house from 1879 to 1882. His son, Homer Cummings, became United States Attorney General under Franklin D. Roosevelt and was at one time Democratic National Chairman.
    • Then it belonged to William Gillings and his wife who lived in it until 1938. Mrs. Gillings died in 1938 after having lived there for 56 years.
    • Mr. Clark Twinn bought the house in 1940 and Mrs. Twinn lived there until she sold the house to the Newstead Historical Society in 1981. Mr. Twinn, an attorney, and formerly Assistant United States Attorney for the territory of Alaska, practiced law in Buffalo. He was keenly interested in the history of Newstead and remembered many interesting stories and bits of history told him by his grandmother who came to Akron from Lancaster around the year 1845. Mr. Twinn had been of great assistance in compiling the history of Newstead which appeared in the Akron Herald.

    Charles B. Rich. the first owner and builder of the house came to Akron in 1826 from Schoharie County. Mr. Rich bought a large section of land from Benjamin Rogers who had power of attorney for the Holland Land Company. He was married four times. His first wife, Diodema, and her four children are buried in Maple Lawn Cemetery on John Street. Mr. Rich and his fourth wife went on a trip on the Erie Canal shortly after their marriage. It was then Mrs. Rich became intrigued by octagon houses she saw and persuaded her husband to build this one in Akron. Mr. Rich lived, at the time he built The Octagon House, on Cedar Street and owned the farm later owned by Benjamin DeYoung.

    The Octagon House was built for Mrs. Rich by James C Twinn, grandfather of Mr. Clark Twinn, and Thomas Lewis. Mr. Rich purchased several acres of land in the vicinity of the Octagon House from Jonathan Russell in 1846. At that time the land was covered with forests and the Main Street of Akron extended but a short distance from the First Baptist Church.

    Features of The Octagon House:

    • The first floor of the Octagon House is six feet above the grade level and requires but a few steps down to the basement.
    • Hand hewn beams form the framing of the house.
    • A one story porch encircles the house.
    • The exterior frame under the porch has flush horizontal siding while above the porch the walls are covered with horizontal beveled clapboards.
    • Each side of the octagon is sixteen feet, two inches long
    • The first floor ceiling is nine feet nine inches high.
    • The roof has a pitch of about 20 degrees
    • A cupola with bracketed cornice and windows looking in each direction is atop the house
    • There are fifteen rooms with large windows and ten closets
    • In the basement is a large fireplace and brick oven which had iron doors when the cooking for the family was done
    • A «dumbwaiter» conveyed the food upstairs by rope pulleys
    • There are two large fireplaces on the first floor
    • In entering the house there is a large central hall with open staircase and a balcony around the stair well on the second floor. Around the staircase well is an ornate railing of hand made spindles

    See also: Highlights of Buffalo’s History, 1849

    Text source:

    • «Town of Newstead Septquicentennial 1823-1998″ book
    • Historical Record. by Patricia S. Whitesell

    Photos and their arrangement © 2002 Chuck LaChiusa .


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