Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Octagon House

In Washington, MI is a unique house called "The Octagon House."   It's only about thirteen miles from where I live so I drove there over the weekend to photograph it.  

It is estimated that several thousand octagon houses were built in the United States  during the 1800's [mostly in the eastern states], but less than 500 of these rare, Victorian-era houses exist today.

A man by the name of Loren Andrus received a land patent for over 300 acres of property in the 1840's.  A friendly rivalry between him and three other Macomb County pioneering families ensued over who could build the most unusual house.   With the help of his brother-in-law [who was an architect] and a book written by Orson Fowler [the leading authority and promoter of the eight-sided wonder homes] Loren began building the Octagon House in 1858.  He was nearly bankrupt by the time his house was completed two years later, but he won the contest! 

Today, 152 years later, a brick engraved with Loren's signature is still embedded in the exterior wall near the front door.   The Octagon House is Italianate in style and is surrounded on six sides by a Corinthian-columned porch.  It has a cedar shake shingled roof, with elegant scrolled brackets which support the octagonal cupola.  The house has eight sides, with eight-foot windows for  lots of natural light during the day. 

Between 1894-1945 the Octagon House changed owners nine times.   In 1971 the house was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but in 1974, due to its deterioration,  it was condemned.  Days before demolition, the house was saved and an on-going effort of restoration and care currently exists through a non-profit organization called "Friends of the Octagon House, Inc.". 

Fund-raiser theme teas are frequently held at the Octagon House and are usually sell-outs.  My girlfriend and I attended a Christmas Tea there in 2005.

The menu was freshly baked lemon or cranberry scones with Devonshire Cream and Octagon preserves [made from fruit grown on the property].  Savories:  mini quiche; roast beef and horseradish spread roll-up; Paté choux filled with chicken salad; ham roll-up;  tuna salad on wheat bread; sweetened cream cheese w/dried cherries and walnut pinwheel.  Desserts were a variety of petite pastries: cheesecake; ribbon cookies; cranberry white chocolate shortbread;, pumpkin spice pecan mini-muffin; and cream cheese brownie.   They serve a signature Octagon House tea blend.

My granddaughter has been learning about the house in school, since it was part of the Underground Railroad, and she's very interested in seeing the inside of the house.   When I saw they will be hosting an antique show on June 9th, I told her we'd go.   After a seven year time lapse, I think it's time I return for a visit.

Octagon structures were supposedly less expensive to build, they offered additional living area by using every inch of space, they received more natural light through their multiple large windows, they were easier to heat in the winter, and they remained cooler in the summer.   Anyone for an octagon house???


  1. What a stunning historical beauty. So glad it was saved from demolition. Thanks for sharing it's history, I really enjoyed reading it.

  2. What a wonderful house and so close by you! Hope you can be at the Mothers Day Tea so you can take pictures!

  3. How interesting! I have never been in one...I wonder if they have unique decorating challenges? How nice to have a special place for festive teas!

  4. What a unique and interesting building, full of history. Enjoying afternoon tea there would be a very special experience! Have fun!

  5. What an interesting local history...thank you for doing the research. I have never been inside this style home. What a treat to have tea there~ Glad the building was saved. Happy Spring. Stop by for English tea, Persian Tea or have your tea in the Haviland set the Lincolns used!

  6. I just love this post - what a wonderful place to visit!

  7. I'm certainly for an octagon house after reading about this one! Can't wait to hear about the antique show after you go in June!

  8. There are many octagon house museums including a magnificent one in Watertown Wi.

    I compiled a book on all those documented to have been built, including 60 in Canada if anyone is interested.


  9. Only a handful of books have ever attempted to document the number of octagon houses built in the past 160-some years since the fad took America by storm.

    In 1950 Ruby Rounds printed booklet on NY octagon house and in 1958 Rochester architect published a book with over 400 octagon houses. Wisconsin’s numerous octagons were recorded by Richard Perrin in his book the Cobblestone and octagon house in Wisconsin. These only scratched the surface of the number of houses actually built.

    Historian Ellen Puerzer has been interested in octagon houses since 1976 and assisted Carl F Schmist in 1978 for his 2nd book More About Octagons and is mentioned in his book.

    With the advent of the internet and emails Mrs. Puerzer was able to make contact with libraries across the US for her book The Octagon House Inventory. It is the most complete and comprehensive book on octagon houses ever printed with nearly 1000 documented. The listings include address, status and histories of houses built across the US and Canada. Descriptions are included as well as 150 photos; many historic.

    Hundreds have sold and only 100 copies remain so if you are interested get it before it goes out of print. Visit the following webpage for more information. Easy Paypal accessibility.



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