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As a Cambridge real estate agent, the city squares of Cambridge, Somerville and Medford and the town centers of Arlington, Watertown and Belmont, Massachusetts are my home turf. And as a lifelong New Englander who’s lived within twenty miles of Boston most of my life, I can introduce you to other nearby towns as we search for your new home. If you’re planning to sell your home in Cambridge, MA or nearby you’ll find plenty of info about the home selling process here too. Questions? Send me an email or call me at 617-504-1737.

The Round House In Somerville – Atherton Street, Somerville MA

Round House Somerville MAIt looks like things are improving for one of Somerville’s most unusual – and most neglected – houses. The Round House on Atherton Street in Somerville, Massachusetts has a new owner who’s working on its restoration. 

I hadn’t realized the Round House had sold until I went to a brokers’ open house on the corner of Harvard Street.  That house, also suffering from years of neglect, had been owned by the woman who owned the Round House for some forty years, prompting me to take a closer look at the landmark around the corner at 36 Atherton Street across the street from the Carr Schoolhouse condos.   Sure enough there were signs that someone was working on the house and a quick call to the city of Somerville confirmed that the house had changed hands.  The new owner is a contractor and previous recipient of  preservation awards from the Somerville Historic Preservation Commission.  The Harvard Street house renovation is now well under way but things seem to be proceeding more slowly at the Round House – which may be a good thing considering the scope of the needed restoration.

Interior of the Round House. Courtesy of the Frances Loeb Library, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University.

Interior of the Round House. Courtesy of the Frances Loeb Library, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University.

The Round House was built in 1856 by inventor and manufacturer, Enoch Robinson.  Robinson’s company manufactured high quality hardware still in use in many significant buildings including the Old State House and Old City Hall in Boston, and the United States Treasury Building in Washington, DC.   A showpiece at the time it was built, the 40 foot diameter Round House had  rooms on three floors including an oval parlor and round library on the first floor.  A glass dome at the center of the building’s roof added light to the interior and the many windows took advantage of the views from Spring Hill.  Before opening his own business, Robinson worked with pressed glass at his family’s company, the New England Glass Company and not surprisingly his house was well equipped with beautiful hardware including decorative glass knobs on all the doors.  The French scenic wallpaper in the house can be seen in the vintage lantern slide image at right.

At the time the Round House was built, octagon houses were all the rage.  Octagon houses were popularized by amateur architect, Orson Fowler, author of the 1848 book A Home For All: The Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building. Fowler believed that the round form was ideal but the octagon  style the most practical to construct.  Many octagon houses were built in the United States between 1850  and 1860, a number in Massachusetts,  but round buildings were relatively rare.

round-house-third-floorThe Round House was offered for purchase to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in 1920.  The Society chose not to purchase the house and reported in its April 1921 Bulletin, Old-Time New England, that “In many ways this would make an ideal period house for the display of mid-Victorian black walnut, but the present is probably fifty years too early for anything of the kind, since to most people that period represents the very quintessence of the ugly.” During its consideration of a purchase, the Society had the floor plans of the Round House drawn that are shown at right and below.

The Round House lay vacant for years and its owner was deaf to the  pleas of the City and of preservationists who were alarmed at its deteriorating condition.  In 1997 Historic Massachusetts included it on that year’s Ten Most Endangered Historic Resources List. Sadly, another architectural favorite of mine included on that year’s list, the largely unchanged buildings built to house prison workers at the Concord Reformatory, were subsequently demolished.  It is heartening that the Round House seems destined to meet a better fate.  I wish the new owner all the best. His is a daunting, but very important, endeavor.  We’re all looking forward to a tour!

 round-house-floor-plans

 

 

 

 

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  1. james

    great write up. we lived next to here for 5 years. swung by yday and started to dig online some more… thx

  2. Elizabeth Bolton

    Hi James ~ Certainly a more interesting next door neighbor than most of us have! It’s wonderful that the house is finally being attended to. Glad you stumbled upon the site.

    Liz

  3. CC

    Thanks for this history! We enjoyed reading it and also look forward to a tour someday!

  4. Kent Rodgers

    It is so hard to find round houses that are actually functional and are actually round instead of a series of small flat walls arranged in a wierd shape. that is why i like this. it is also nice to compare my own plans with the floorplans shown here. Thank you.

  5. Elizabeth Bolton

    Hi CC ~ My apologies – I missed your comment somehow. I too am eagerly looking forward to seeing inside someday. One great thing about being a real estate agent – eventually we get to see inside all sorts of great houses. This one will certainly be a treat someday.

  6. Elizabeth Bolton

    Hi Kent ~ Are you planning to build a round house? I’ve noticed that a number of people search for round house plans. Certainly a very interesting type of house. I do like the octagon houses too and will be writing a post about the nearby octagons sometime soon.

    Liz

  7. Mike Rossetti

    My grandfather owned the house from the mid 1930s until he died in 1965.
    I myself lived there until it was sold in 1965, I was 12 yrs old at that time.I remember the house quite well.
    My mothers family has many great stories and memories of living there.
    Unfortunately most of them are now deceased, 3 of the sisters dying in the last 6 months.
    The stories are now fading with them,and I fear an accurate history will also disappear’

  8. Barbara Mangum

    Mike Rossetti please contact me. I’m the President of Historic Somerville and we are hoping to do a series on the history of Enoch Robinson and /or the round house. Could you get back to me at [email protected]? Thanks so much! We’d love to record your memories of living in the house in some way.

    Also, to Elizabeth Bolton, Nice piece on the round house! Many thanks.

  9. Benita Burke

    Thank you for this article about The Round House. I used to live in Somerville when my sons were young and we chanced upon the house one day. I found it fascinating and returned to look at it many times until I finally moved back to CT in 2002. I’m very glad someone is helping the house- it’s very special! I would love to be able to see the inside someday and go up to the top and see the skylight.

  10. Richard

    Enoch Robinson was my great great granduncle.

    He was born in Bridgewater, Plymouth County, Massachusetts a son of Dyer Robinson and Abigal (Nabby) Stetson Robinson.

  11. Liz Bolton

    Hi Richard ~ Glad you found the post. What an interesting ancestor! Thanks for the info.

  12. Lisa

    Thank u so much for this article, since I first moved to somerville 6/7yrs ago I have been fascinated w the beauty of this boarded up house … Thinking of how creative the interior must be.. And wanting to take part in its restoration … Well… Is Will not get to do that, nut by chance I moved in right around the corner from it.. And have just recently noticed that there is some real improvement and that they have started to do a lot of renovations. Getting to read about its history has been great… And since I literally walk by every day… If u ever need simeonewho updated pictures as the project moves along, I would be honored to help…. Thank you for this insiteful article. Lisa

  13. Lisa

    Thank u so much for this article, since I first moved to somerville 6/7yrs ago I have been fascinated w the beauty of this boarded up house … Thinking of how creative the interior must be, and thanks to your article have gotten to see parts of its beauty …I’ve dreamed of getting toto take part in its restoration … Well… I Will not get to do that, although by chance I moved in right around the corner from it.. And have just recently noticed that there is some real improvement and that they have started to do a lot of renovations. Getting to read about its history has been great… And since I literally walk by every day… If u ever need someone to send updated pictures as the project moves along, I would be honored to help…. Thank you for this insiteful article. Lisa

  14. Sharon Letasz Jones

    Loved reading the history of The Roundhouse that my father, Stanley Letasz, has talked about for years. He was born in 1920 in Somerville, and attended Carr School. (in fact, his name is inscribed on the War Memorial wall in front of the school). He was fascinated by this home and was friends with a family who lived here. It always reminded him of a home that might have been designed by a former ship’s captain or lighthouse keeper. Finding this website today certainly gave my father a fond trip down memory lane. Thank you!

  15. Elizabeth Bolton

    Hi Sharon ~ I’m delighted you found the post. Thanks for adding another piece of Somerville history to the mix.

    Liz

  16. michael beattie

    Thanks for this article, I particularly appreciate the floorplans. Cheers, M

  17. Samantha Smith

    My great grandfather lived on the same street 2 houses down. My grandmothers sister went to the school right across and my mom lived on Richardson St. When her and her siblings went to their grandfathers to play they made up a story that “the lady who lived there went crazy because she had no corners in her house!” This was in the late 60′s and 70′s. Just went and looked at all the old family homes today and now I’m researching!

  18. Dawn m. Divincenzo

    I came upon this wonderful house quite by chance when I made a wrong turn. I see it often and am happy to report that the exterior has been painted and the wrought iron is being installed above the front entry. I will be in line to see this when it becomes open for view!

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