The Octogon house


Material Information

The Octogon house
Physical Description:
Golden, James William
James William Golden
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, FL
Publication Date:


General Note:
AFA Historic Preservation document 542

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All rights reserved by the source institution.
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Full Text



Our forefathers built many types of buildings with circular and
polygonal plans. In fact, these forms characterized the oldest and most
primitive shelters of the human race. The conical brush structures of
the nomadic tribes of the old stone age assumed a circular plan be-
cause the principal branches nearby provided mutual support. This form
survives in the tepee of the American Indian. When in the new stone age,
men settled to win a more certain food supply from a primitive form of
agriculture; they built their huts of more durable materials, but for
many centuries continued the traditional round plan. In New York state
the primitive round wigwams of the earliest Indian inhabitants demonstrate
this phase.
In time men developed more skillful building techniques.
After experimentation with elongated oval plans, their houses attained
rectangular form. Iroquois "long houses" and the pueblos of the South-
west illustrate this point.
In spite of the technological advances that allowed man to
build rectangular structures, the circular form continued to be assoc-
iated with mystical or religious rituals. The pueblos had round cere-
monial halls called kivas, and ancient Greek and Roman cults used the
circular form for their shrines.
In addition to their historic, symbolic nature; circular
buildings were recognized for their pure formal beauty by the classical
architects. Hadrian's Pantheon has awed visitors for 1800 years with
the beauty of it's cylindrical hall. During the middle ages, circles
and polygons were used often for baptistries. The baptistries at
Rome and Florence are examples. The most famous rotunda of this period
is the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Octagonal domed churches were favored by protestant congre-
gations in Germany. With the popularity of the form in Europe it is not
surprising that octagonal forms soon were built in the American Colonies.
One of the earliest and least known was the Dutch Reformed Church for
Rensselaerwyck. Some twenty of these Reformed octagons graced the
Dutch settlements along the Hudson. All have now disappeared, and are
only recorded on a few early woodcuts. The construction of octagonal
powderhouses was quite common, the powderhouse at Williamsburg being the
most famous example.
Architects in the early years of the Republic were not un-
familiar with the polygonal form. Dr. William Thornton, the architect
of the Capitol bldg. is responsible for the misnamed Octagon House in
Washington,D.C., which is in reality a modified hexagon shape. The house,
which is now the headquarters of the American Institute of Architects,
is an extremely efficient arrangement of rooms in the polygonal shape
and is well suited to it's acutely angled corner site.
Thomas Jefferson was extremely interested in breaking away
from the rectangular form of building that was prevalent in his time.
He is known to have experimented with octagonal and circular features
in some thirty documented plans. Toward the middle of his life, Jef-
ferson designed and directed the construction of a.Classic retreat
called Poplar Forest on a tract of land he owned in Bedford, Virginia.
The retreat was a fifty-three foot wide octagon two stories in height,
with several octagonally formed rooms on the main floor. Jefferson's
delight in octagonal plans inspired his friends who built homes with
octagonal elements in their plans. Jefferson exchanged ideas with

Poplar Forest, Virginia: Garden Front Elevation, Designed by Thomas

Poplar Forest, Virginia: Principal Floor Plan

Washington, D.C.: Octagon
House, First Floor Plan. A entry, B
stairhall, C parlor, D dining room

Richmond, Virginia: Monumental Church, Original Scheme,
PAbert Mills

Richmond, Virginia: Monumental Church, Exterior View

other architects and designers of the period, among these was Robert
Mills, who did some architectural renderings for Jefferson. Mills
later built two octagonal churches; in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
and Richmond, Virginia.
The octagon house form achieved it's greatest popularity
and/or notoriety under the sponsorship of one Orson Fowler of Fishkill,
New York. Fowler, who was a practicing phrenologist (examiner of the
cranium),was an amateur architect who used his publishing business to
promote whatever cause he felt was worthy. Octagonal buildings and
gravel wall construction were among his favorites. His position is
expressed at the beginning of his book A Home For All:
"Let no one suppose that he has forsaken, or even turned aside
from, Phrenology--that first and only occupation of his enthusiastic
youth, and the idol of his matured and declining years. He has turned
aside only to build his own home, and in doing so, has made and learned
improvements to adopt which will greatly increase home comforts; and
this work is written to propagate them, rather than as a complete arch-
itectural production."'
This "good home" a gigantic concrete octagon which he built between 1850
and 1853 in Fishkill, New York, was apparently the only major structure
he designed. It was dynamited in 1897. The fad for building octagon
homes which Fowler promoted was also of short duration, 1850-1857.
Yet it does seem appropriate to call Fowler a significant
architect. His extraordinary importance for his era was the result
of his talent for accurately estimating and capitalizing upon the the
bubbling intellectual currents that surrounded him. A Home For All is
still readily accessible. The book had seven printings between 1848
and 1857 and was the main promoter of octagonal houses in this country.

This same time span saw scores of octagons appear. But the most sig-
nificant testimony to Fowler4s importance remains in the pages of
carpenters and builders books of the day. The authors paid him the
compliment of quotation and illustration and even included polygonal
plans of their own.
It is known that the "Classic" and "Gothic" architects of
the early nineteenth century century were familiar with circular and
polygonal bays and rooms in their houses. They were common as free-
standing structures only among the more lowly buildings of the day.
The average carpenter understood the the practical aspects of circular
and polygonal plans long before Orson Fowler began to promote them so
avidly. Precedents such as this deserve mention because the amount of
time that Fowler devotes in his book to such buildings as octagonal
churches, schools and barns indicates that such a structure may have
served to inspire him to investigate the form.
At the beginning of A Home For All Fowler gives the reader a
broad range for speculation about the precedents for the octagon house.
He traveled widely throughout the United States and Canada, and only
described in the most general terms the state of his architectural con-
cerns during these trips:
"Except in a single particular, (the gravel-wall) and this he
has greatly improved, this mode is the invention of its author, and occur-
ed thus. Till past forty, his profession engrossed too much of his time
and means to allow him to procure a comfortable home; yet for ten years
he has been making observations, in all his professional peregrinations,
and cogitating by months, upon the best mode of building the home of his
future years."2

No specific influences are mentioned and, later he gives an even more
blunt claim:
"The OCTAGON FORM and the GRAVEL WALL are its two distinct
characteristics. The form, as applied to domestic residences, is
WHOLLY ORIGINAL with the author, and the latter greatly improved
upon, and at the other principles and suggestions the author has ar-
rived while planning and studying out his own house."3
The qualifying phrase, "as applied to domestic residences," does admit,
however unwillingly, that it is possible that the octagon form could
have been derived from some earlier church, barn, or fortification.
Richmond, Vermont has a sixteen-sided wooden meeting house
dating from 1812. Its substantial size was necessitated by the joining
of five protestant congregations into Vermont's first Union Church.
Where its carpenter, William Rhodes, obtained his plan is not known,
but it should be remembered that the Dutch of New York, New Jersey, and
Pennsylvania were worshipping in small eight-sided churches throughout
the seventeenth century. This was an old form imported from their home-
land. The first Dutch Protestant church built in Holland, at Willemstad
in 1595, was octagonal. These buildings were once common, but as a class
of buildings they became extinct before the start of the nineteenth cen-
tury. The larger and wealthier congregations turned to the larger and
more graceful English rectangular church plans with their tall spires.
This traditional plan form was carried on in the polygonal
schoolhouses of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. These
schools were built to replace the log cabin schools that existed before.
By 1850 these schools had ceased to be built probably for the same reason

that the churches ceased to be used, namely they were too small and plain
for the then modern requirements. These octagonal schools were referred
to as "eight-square" schools, their students referred to them as "hornets'
nests"! The octagonal schoolhouse along the Bath road in Upper Nazareth
Township, Pennsylvania, has a typical interior plan. There were two cir-
cles of desks--a high, outer row, which faced the wall for older students,
and a low, inner row facing the center of the space for the younger stud-
ents. The boys were seated in the section to the left of the door, and
the girls were seated to the right. The arrangement was to not only di-
vide the students by age and sex, but to allow the teacher to have full
range of the room without retracing his steps. The center of the space
was left open for the necessary wood stove. The use of the octagonal
plan with the heat source in the center was an idea that was put forth
by the carpenters books of the time. Chester Hills, in his Builders
Guide of 1847 makes such an observation about a school "drawn by Messrs.
Town & Davis, New York".:
"The stove, furnace, or open grate, being in the centre of the
room, has great advantages, from diffusing the heat to all parts, and
equally to all the scholars; it also admits the pipe to go perpendicularly
up, without any inconvenience, and it greatly facilitates the ventilation,
and the retention or escape of heat, by means of the sliding cap above."6
Fowler, beginning to print his book in the following year,
was also aware of the advantages of the octagon form for the distribu-
tion of heat, and for the function as a school building. He states his
interpretation as such in the book:
"...As in magnetic and electrical experiments we must complete

a circle, so, that several minds may act in concert, it is requisite
that they form around and face a common center. The more so where, as
in a school, all eyes are often required to be directed simultaneously
towards the same object--the teacher. This purpose the octagon form
serves better than the square, and is preferable in every way--more
than enough so to build the extra angles."7
Farmers interested in efficient barns were also using cir-
cular or polygonal forms. George Washington not only used the octagon
form for a small schoolhouse at Mount Vernon, but he also built at near-
by Douge Run Farm a sixteen-sided barn. The brick and frame structure
was finished in 1793, and was two stories high and sixty feet in dia-
meter. A bigger completely round barn was built by the Shakers of
Hancock, Massachusetts in 1826. The round form was well adapted to the
needs of a large agricultural community, and was one hundred feet in
diameter. One of the forms greatest assets was a huge storage area for
hay and equipment. The wedge shaped stalls were also surprisingly
efficient because a cow is approximately one half foot narrower at the
head than at the hind quarter.
Closest to actual octagonal houses in form among the vernac-
ular architecture were the tiny tollhouses along the old National Turn-
pike. In 1811 the first ten-mile segment of the road was started west
of Cumberland, Maryland. Of the six tollhouses that were originally
constructed only three remain. They are in Alexander, Uniontown, and
Addison, Maryland. They were designed, as were the eight-square school-
houses to get the most usable space out of the least amount of material.
Next to the road was a two-story polygonal tower with windows facing up
and down the road for easy recognition of traffic. Back from the road,

Plan of the Upper Two Storive
of the Fishkill Octagon

Plan of Tollhouse near Union-
toWt, Pennsylvania (Charles M. Stotz)

First Story of the Fishkill Octa-

and somewhat away from the noise and dust, single-story, rectangular,
one-room units were added to allow additional living space for the col-
lector. A porch was built around the tower to provide shelter and,
under it on the side facing the road was a sign listing the tolls.
Another early polygonal dwelling not far from Fishkill,
was the gate-lodge of Blithewood, an estate at Annandale, New York.
This small house, which still stands, was illustrated for the first
time in the second, 1844, edition of Alexander Jackson Downing's
Landscape Gardening. "The gate-lodge at Blithewood, on the Hudson,
the seat of R. Donaldson, EsQ., is a simple and effective cottage in
the bracketed style--octagonal in its form, and very compactly arrang-
ed internally."8 It was probably designed by Town and Davis, the arch-
itects for the main house. It is hexagonal, not octagonal, as Downing
tells his readers. As an early example of attempts to slice up the
pie of interior space, it has an unusual plan. At opposite angles in
the hexagon are small diamond-shaped entries. Between them runs a seg-
mental wall, which separates the living room from the kitchen. Smoke
from the living room fireplace and fumes from the kitchen stove are
drawn off through the segmental wall and are exhausted through a chim-
ney in the center of the roof. As in the eight-square schoolhouses
one gets the impression of a building clustered around its heat source.
Downing's book contained an illistration of the Blithewood
hexagon, mislabeled as an octagon, four years before Fowler's first
edition came out. In fact you can not even begin to compare the two men
with out gaining a sense. of the rivalry between them. In Fowler's mind
Downing stood for the conventional architecture of the time. Everything

Second Story of "Howland's
Octagonal Plan"

Jhe Blithewood Gate-Lodge from Downing's
Landscape Gardening

First Floor of "Howland's Oc-
tagonal Plafi" (d Home for All, 1854)

that he was opposed to. The location of their homes on opposite banks
of the Hudson River is indicative of the competition between them.
Contemporary accounts even state that the young boys of the two towns
were constant rivals.
Downing had a tremendous reputation established among his
contemporaries. Fredrika Bremer, a Swedish novelist of the period gives
this account of her good friend Downing:
"Of that which he himself has done, Mr. Downing speaks with
the utmost modesty; but I heard from Miss. Sedgwick that few men in the
United States are so well known, or so generally influential as he.
His works on architecture, on gardening, on flowers and fruits--and all
of which are calculated to ennoble the taste, to make the purest pro-
ductions in their branches of science and art accessible to every man-
-these works are to be found everywhere, and nobody, whether he be rich
or poor, builds a home or lays out a garden without consulting Downing's
works. Every young couple who sets up housekeeping buys them."9
Downing's reputation was great, but so was the prejudice
against him by certain carpenters and builders who thought he wrote
only for the upper classes. Solon Robinson, an early proponent of the
balloon frame stated it thus:
"It is an old proverb, Mr. Editor, that many a man has built
his so big he could not live in it. Sometimes it is because he don't
know how to build less. Can we help to show him? Notwithstanding the
high character and the adaptability of Mr. Downing's works to the
"upper ten thousand," the wants of the lower ten-hundred-thousand are
not satisfied."'1

The star of the common man had been rising since the inau-
guration of Andrew Jackson. But, according to his critics, Andrew
Jackson Downing was not meeting the needs of the ordinary citizen who
was not wealthy enough to afford one of Downing's grand houses. Both
Solon Robinson and Orson Fowler had their own solutions to offer. For
Robinson it was less expensive homes built with the balloon-frame and
increased in size according to family needs and finances. For Fowler,
board-wall, and later, the concrete octagon were so economical that the
ideal might be built all at once. He summed up his beliefs in the open-
ing words of A Home For All: "No invention can be of greater practical
utility to man than one which shall CHEAPEN AND IMPROVE OUR HOUSES, and
especially which shall bring comfortable dwellings within the reach of
the poorer classes."11
It was Fowler's intention to discredit the prevailing fashion
of house design associated with Downing and his circle. Fowler referred
to their manner of design as the "Cottage" or "Doric" style. This is
roughly equivalent to what Downing calls "Rural Gothic or Old English
Cottage Style." Its decorative extravgances were impugned, together
with the taste of the social group whose delight it was supposed to be.
"...But the law of things, that whatever appendage, however
beautiful where it is useful, THEREFORE deforms, instead of adorns,
where it is useless, is too plain to require additional illustration,
and its application to these finified carvings and cornicings of the
cottage style, too palpable to excite any thing but disgust in those
of correct taste. For a child whose tastes are yet immature to be
tickled by them, would not be surprising, but for the ELITE tobe en-
amored with them only shows how GREEN they are, at least in architect-
ure. "12

Although outwardly opposed to Downing's principles, Fowler
appears to have mused over many of his neighbor's more moderate pre-
cepts. One example may be the Blithewood gatehouse. Another example
can be demonstrated by Downing's NOTES, which were included in George
Wightwick's HINTS TO YOUNG ARCHITECTS. In these few pages could have
been found the seed for most of Fowler's octagonal thought. That
Downing was not oblivious to the multiple implications of cost in re-
lation to architectural form is shown in the following:
"All builders will agree that the most economical form in
which a dwelling can be erected is a CUBE, because it contains more
space within a given area of walls and roof than any other. Next to
this is the parallelogram. The more irregular the outline of a building,
the more the cost is increased, because it has more exterior surface,
and therefore more wall or weather boarding, more roof, more gutters,
and more fixtures and ornaments, when the house is done in a handsome
Downing, however, preferred the flexibility allowed by the
picturesque "Gothic" arrangement. He felt the square house was an off-
spring of the old-fashioned neo-classic. He stated it thusly:
"On the other hand, the irregular form has great advantages,
not only in the greater beauty of effect which the architect is enabled
to bestow upon it, but in its greater variety of sizes, forms, and
consequently accommodation of its apartments within, as well as in the
greater number and variety of views afforded without."14
Fowler believed that the various aspects of economy, beauty,
and convenience were not being ignored by such kind of thought, but that

there was a mistaken emphasis on beauty and convenience at the expense
of economy. Downing illustrated this difference between himself and his
critic, Fowler, in his closing paragraph:
"Hence those who desire to combine as much economy as possible,
with good taste in building a residence, will select a cube or rectangle
for the outline of its ground plan; while those towhom expense is of
less importance than convenience and picturesque effect, will adopt the
irregular form."1'
Wightwick's HINTS TO YOUNG ARCHITECTS, together with the Downing NOTES,
was first published in the United States in 1847, the year before A
It would be unfair to both Downing and Fowler if no effort was
made to trace some evidence of Downing's influence on Fowler's book.
A good indication comes in Fowler's argument for the octagon shape.
After a few introductory remarks and some talk on the gravel-wall, he
then starts into a discussion of the"Defects in the Usual Shape of Houses,"
spending twenty-six pages agreeing with the same premis that Downing set
forth in his book about the advantages of a cubical form for a cheaper
"To sum up these results. Low houses are far more expensive,
less comfortable, and in every way inferior to high ones. Large houses
are much cheaper, relatively,'than small ones. The winged, cottage, and
all irregular forms of houses cost far more than the square, yet are far
inferior to it, besides making far less show in proportion to cost."16
In the next chapter, Fowler takes the concept far beyond Downing in a
truly baffling display of mathematics comparing the octagon to the square.

square feet
"A,D,E,H, is 16 by 39, and contains 624
B,C,K,N, is 11 by 16, and contains 176
I,G,M,L, is also 11 by 16, and contains 176
The four helf-squares, ANB,CDK,EIL,and GHM,
make two squares, each 11 feet 242
Total number of square feet in the octagon 1,218
But the square of the same circumference contains only 1,024
square feet. So that the octagonexceeds the square by 194 square feet--
a gain of ONE-FIFTH
To show this difference by reducing their respective numbers
of square feet to fractions. Dropping eighteen square feet from the
octagon, and twenty-four from the square, the sum stands:

0 + 2 -- ONE-FIFTH gain
in favor of the octagon. ... Now, since' a given length of octagon wall
will enclose one-fifth more space than the same length wall in a square
shape, of course you can have the same sized wall for one-fifth less
money, or the wall of a house one-fifth larger for the same sum; for
this gain is just as great in the foundation, siding, plastering, paint-
ing, whitewashing, etc., as in the wall proper."'7
Could it have been pride or pleasure in advancing the cubical
beyond the much more famous Downing which mighthave led him to declare
that "The form, as applied to domestic residences, is WHOLLY ORIGINAL
with the author..."?1
In spite of how derivative Fowler's theories may appear on the
surface, he did make one valuable contribution to the architectural out-
look of his generation. He reworked the house plan to coordinate it

through a better use of new materials and new mechanics. His home
met the requirements of an organic "living machine", with no conces-
sion to fashionable revival styles.
The octagon plan had many satisfaction the owner. Increased
light, and ease of communication between the rooms and floors were
among the best of them:
"Given sized windows will light a room more than a fifth
larger in the octagon than in the square--first because the latter
has deep, dark CORNERS, which will be dark in a cloudy day however
large your windows, which is not the case with the octagon; and also
because the octagon form makes the same gain in the DEPTH of the rooms
that it does in the length of the walls, that is, the room is more
compact. "19
For recognition of the step-saving features of his plan
Fowler calls not on the period's delicate "parlor toys" but on the
"It is now submitted whether you can not go from room to room,
and story to story, about this house, with less than half the steps
requisite to get from room to room, and story to story, in other houses
as usually arranged. Observe, here are a great many rooms, and all
handy to each other. In short, is not this centrality of the stairway
incomparably superior to ordinary entries?"20
The weakest areas in the octagonal plan were the awkwardly
sharp interior angles. Fowler handled this problem with his usual
inventiveness, using the more acute corners as triangular closets for
water-tanks on the upper floor, and as ordinary storage below. (He
showed the same attitude as the typical architecture student--label
any leftover space as storage.) Fowler, being his usual self, justified

the solution with another display of his mathematical logic:
"Your six-feet square closet occupies thirty-six square feet
of your house-room, yet gives you only twenty-four feet of shelf-room,
or one-and-a-half square feet of house-room to one foot of shelf room;
whereas my triangular closets, about four-feet sides, give twelve feet
of shelve room for only eight square feet of house-room, or only two-
thirds of a foot of house-room to every foot of shelf-room--a differ-
ence of FIFTY PER CENT. more shelf-room by my plan than by yours, as
compared with the real room occupied by the two closets."21
(Is that all perfectly clear?)
Fowler's criticism of the"Cottage or Gothic Style" implies
that he wanted to provoke something more than just technological advan-
ce. If any American forecast the principle of Louis Sullivan that "form
follows function" in word and action, it was Orson Fowler. Unfortunately
his timing was off, being about fifty years too soon. His ideal was
put forth in an atmosphere more willing to accept technological advance
than stylistic reforms. Society at the time was intriued with a variety
of Romantic eclecticisms. Downing was also reacting in his restrained
fashion against the architectural liberties of the day, which were be-
coming more chaotic as the gap widened between it and older traditions.
He warned his readers against houses "built in Chinese taste, or dom-
estic copies of Egyptian temples--the latter with their unchristian or-
naments 'of enbalmed cats and deified crocodiles.'"22 He preferred that
people confine their building to what he called proper European styles,
such as "Gothic, Grecian, Roman, Italian, Swiss; or to new and more
suitable modifications of these styles." These were to be handled with
simplicity and consistency.

. Lexington, Kentucky: Floral Hall, Fair Grounds, by John McMurtry, View from South

Samuel Sloan, An Oriental Villa, Project, 1852

Fowler would settle for no such half-way measures. His aes-
thetic required a use of the neo-classic feeling for the compact geo-
metric solid underlying the overall form of the house.
"Look at these two figures, the octagon and the winged, or
oven the square, and say which strikes you as the most noble looking
and truly beautiful. The octagon solid, massive, compact, spherical;
the winged full of outs and ins, all long and no wide; its wings low
and centre high, that is, a break between them, or the same as three
houses set close together; the octagon beautifully proportioned every
way, the winged out of all proportion; the octagon exactly adapted to
to have a promenade all around at each story, with pillars, which
would greatly add to its coolness, beauty, and utility, the other not
thus adapted; the octagon with a single regular roof, the winged with
four roofs; the octagon exactly adapted to make a magnificent appear-
ance on a rise of ground, the other not; in short, the octagon per-
fectly beautiful, and the winged a violation of every principle of
taste and beauty."23
Being less tolerant than Downing, Fowler was sold on the
ideal of the efficient, plain, semi-standardized and pseudo-scienti-
fic octagon when compared to the eclecticisms around him. He could
not understand the attempts to adjust vocabulary to climatic con-
ditions, such as an Egyptian house in New York state. It was at the
least ironic when his contemporaries used elements of his octagonal
form as decorations on highly ornamented exteriors.
There were, however, certain rugged individualists who did
not care what the neighbors thought, and began to build octagonal

houses. A man in Yonkers, New York built one so his crippled wife
could get around more easily. A deaf-mute couple built a very elab-
orate on in Geneva, New York. An octagon was built in Pasadenia Cal-
ifornia by a man who had built on for his old home in Maine. One
man, Zephania Baker, was so taken by the octagon idea that he was pre-
pared to go Fowler one better. He built a twelve sided house with
crystal shaped rooms in Dudley, Massachusetts. He even published a
book advocating the duodecagon in 1856.
Octagons were generally built in the northeast and north
central regions of the United States. Often being constructed in the
latter area by people who had migrated from the northeast. Wisconsin
has almost as many octagons as the Hudson River Valley. One of the
best preserved octagons is the Richard's house in Watertown, Wisconsin,
now the home of the Watertown Historical Society. One of the most inter-
esting aspects of this house is that it was studied by George Fred Keck,
before he designed the duodecagon House of Tomorrow for the Chicago
Fair of 1933. A typical small octagon is the Edward Elderkin house in
Elkhorn, Wisconsin. It is almost a mirror image of the "Howland Octag-
onal Plan" in the second edition of Fowler's book. Such remaining oct-
agons are important because they give us an impression of what Fowler's
own home was like. The Fishkill home, "Fowler's Folly" was dynamited in
1897 because its abandoned .state was a danger to visitors.
It is hard to say why the octagon fad lasted for such a short
time. It is interesting to note that 1857 marked the date of the last
printing of A HOME FOR ALL, and the leasing out of the Fishkill house.
Perhaps Fowler had lost interest, and the depression of the economy

Elkhorn, Wiscon-
sin: Edward Elderkin House,
1854-55 (Courtesy Historic
American Buildings Survey).

Watertown, Wiscon-
sin: John Richards House,
1854-56 (Courtesy Historic
American Buildings Survey)

SSecond Floor of the Elderkin
House (Courtesy Historic American
Buildings Survey)

Watertown, Wisconsin: Plan of
the John Richards House (Courtesy His-
toric American Buildings Survey)

.lkhorn, Wisconsin: Edward
Elderkin Hous e.Filst Floor (Courtesy
Historic American Buildings Survey)

sealed the fate of Fowler's architectural career. It would be easy to
end by saying that Orson Fowler was merely ahead of his time, but such
a statement would not do the subject justice. The octagon house is
just as characteristic of the age as more famous examples such as the
Crystal Palace. It is the product of an age of individualism. It did
not matter if you were a Romantic or a Pragmatist, as long as you were
first an individualist. A contemporary magazine characterized the per-
iod in this way:
"Each property-owner expresses his pecular idea of architecture,
and independently carries them into effect."24
Orson Fowler was a true spirit of the mid-nineteenth century, and his
octagonal house wasatypical, rather than an exceptionrto the rule.

1. A HOME FOR ALL, Dover Edition, New York, Fowler and Wells,
1973 (1857), Preface, p. 3.

2. Fowler, Preface, p. 3.

3. Fowler, Preface, p. 3-4.

4. THE ART BULLETIN, (June 1946) "Fowler and the Domestic Octagon,"
Walter Creese, p. 91.

5. Creese, p. 91.

6. BUILDERS GUIDE, New York, Chester Hills, 1847, p. 96

7. Fowler, p. 151-152

ADAPTED TO NORTH AMERICA, New York and London, Andrew J. Downong,
1844, p.385

9. THE HOMES OF THE NEW WORLD, New York, Fredrika Bremer, 1853,

Herbert Anthony Kellar, 1936, p.553

11. Fowler, Preface, p. 1.

12. Fowler, p. 76.

13. HINTS TO YOUNG ARCHITECTSONOTES, New York and London, Wightwick
and Downing, 1847, p.20-21

14. Wightwick and Downing, p. 21

15. Wightwick and Downing, p. 21

16. Fowler, p. 80-81.

17. Fowler, p. 84-85

18. Fowler, Preface, p. 3-4.

19. Fowler, p. 85.

20. Fowler, p. 127.

21. Fowler, p. 136.

22. Wightwick and Downing, p. 14.

23. Fowler, p. 83-84

24. Creese, p. 102


Harper and Bros., 1955; Free Press, 1964).

Bannister, Turpin C., "The Architecture of the Octagon in
New York State," NEW YORK HISTORY (January 1945).

Creese, Walter,. "Fowler and the Domestic Octagon," THE ART BULLETIN,
(June 1946)

Fowler, Orson S., THE OCTAGON HOUSE: A HOME FOR ALL, (New York,
Dover, 1973, reprint of 1853).

E. Tuttle Co., 1960).

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