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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.

Octagon Houses

 

Octagon houses have always intrigued me.  Over the years I often drove past a brick octagon house in Townsend and another up the road in West Townsend with clapboard siding (more about these later) and another in Gardner.   Here in Somerville we have a round house that’s a local favorite.

Orson S. Fowler and the Octagon House

Stoneham MA Octagon House on Pine St

Stoneham MA Octagon House on Pine St

While Orson Squire Fowler did not create the octagon house style he is most closely associated with it.  Octagon houses were built before Fowler’s time – Thomas Jefferson’s summer home, Poplar Forest, was an octagon completed in 1819 for example.

But it was Fowler’s 1848 book, A Home For All, or a New, Cheap, Convenient and Superior Mode of Building in which he promoted the octagon as an economical and healthful house style, that set off the craze for octagon houses in the United States.  Fowler pushed for the octagon style as a way to get more interior square footage with the same amount of exterior linear feet as a traditionally styled house.

Octagon house floor plans typically show a layout with four square rooms and four small triangular spaces on each floor.

It is estimated that as many as several thousand octagon houses were built in the United States, most from 1848 to 1860.  Fowler was from New York and attended Amherst College in Massachusetts. Octagons were particularly popular in New York, Massachusetts, and in the Midwest in areas where Easterners settled – Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

Octagon House in Stoneham on Spring Street

Octagon House in Stoneham on Spring Street

Another edition of Fowler’s book was published in 1854 and retitled A Home For All or The Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building.  Fowler believed that the best way to build the octagon was with “gravel wall construction – i.e. poured concrete – but most were built with wood or brick siding.

Fowler also advised that a cupola should be built on an octagon house to provide light and ventilation and many octagon houses were in fact built with a cupola atop.

O.S. Fowler was a man of many interests – he was a publisher, writer, lecturer and reformer.

Even more than architecture, his passion was phrenology – the belief that the shape of a person’s head reveals one’s talents, personality and character.  Fowler’s phrenological practice, with his brother as partner, attracted many well known patients including Clara Barton, Horace Greeley, President Garfield, Brigham Young, Walt Whitman, Richard Henry Dana and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Stoneham Octagon Houses

Want to see some octagon houses?  The best place to get your fix near Cambridge is Stoneham, Mass which has three octagon houses, all privately owned.

Stoneham Octagon House on Summer Street

Stoneham Octagon House on Summer Street

Stoneham’s eight-sided houses are pictured in the photographs here.

The red octagon house with cupola at 2 Spring Street was built for William and Lucinda Bryant in 1850 and is on the National Register.

The octagon house with the two-story enclosed porch at 77 Summer Street was built by Captain James Hill Gould between 1848 and 1850. It originally sat on 16 acres.

Enoch Fuller’s house at 72 Pine Street is beautifully sited atop a rise.  It is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

Given Stoneham’s selection of octagon houses I guess the six-sided Dairy Dome on Main Street is just what you’d expect to find here. The distinctive building that houses the ice cream stand was once a Colonial Beacon gas station and is also on the National Register.

So come summer – make a day of it – go for a cone and a drive to see some very cool houses.

More Massachusetts Octagon Houses

The best source for info about octagon houses – and round houses and other many-sided houses – is Robert Kline and Ellen Puerzer’s Inventory of Octagon Houses.

Their site has pictures and details of these unusual houses – those that are still standing as well as those long gone. 

Turns out there’s an octagon house on Route 16 in Newton that I’ve never noticed. And those “octagons” in Townsend and West Townsend?  Lo and behold they’re both hexadecagon houses.  I had to look that up  –  it’s a sixteen-sided house.

The inventory shows 82 houses in Massachusetts – though that number may include houses that are no longer with us.  Either way there are a lot of amazing houses to go see. 

Some people have lists of mountains to climb.  Me?  I’m going hunting for octagon houses.

 

Other Local Architectural Styles

Bungalows

Greek Revival Architecture

Tudor Revival Houses

Cape Cod Style Houses

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  1. Daniel

    I have featured a number of octagon houses in Connecticut on my Connecticut buildings blog: http://historicbuildingsct.com/?cat=37

  2. Elizabeth Bolton

    Hi Daniel,

    Thanks for including the link to the octagon houses on your blog. What a great collection! They’re all beautiful but the mansard and the Sears Roebuck ones are so unusual – great to see.

    Liz

  3. Mari

    Thanks for the link to Kline’s Octagon Inventory. What a fantastic collection of octagon houses. The research they’ve done is exhaustive!!!

    Took me hours to go through all 50 states but well worth it.

  4. Laura Clementsen

    Elizabeth, Have you written a book about the Massachusetts octagons? I too have been chasing octagons, in Connecticut, and can document 16. Allegedly, there are two more somewhere in the state. Someone asked me today why I haven’t written about those I have found. Laura

  5. Laura Clementsen

    Elizabeth, Haven you written a book about the octagons in Massachusetts? I have been searching for Connecticut octagons for a few years and have found 16. I do not know where the other two which still stand can be found. Laura

  6. Jim Horne

    Very nice. I’m pleased to see such fine architecture so close to Woburn. Respectfully:
    Jim Horne

  7. Robert Kline

    Let me point out that the octagon house
    inventory is now available in paperback.
    The information is somewhat different than
    the website, but the complete listing, as
    of the time of publishing, is contained.
    Also, we are constantly on the lookout for
    good photos of standing houses. If you do
    take photos of any of the octagon houses,
    and feel they are better than what is already
    on the inventory, we’d certainly like to hear
    from you.

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