The Octagon form of architecture was conceived in 1848 in the prolific mind of Orson Squire Fowler, phrenologist and author of books on sex, family relations, and many other subjects. His book A Home for All, or, the Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building struck the fancy of a certain few, and Octagon homes were built across the country, for just about a decade until they fell out of favor almost overnight. This home in West Gardiner, Maine, was built by Jesse Tucker in 1856 on land his father had cleared, replacing a more standard structure. The new octagon house was being constructed as a gift to Jesse’s soon-to-be wife, but tragically fell from the roof of the barn when building, and died. The home was completed, and it was seemingly acquired by Jesse’s twin brother David. The home remained in the Tucker family until the 1950s.
Lemuel Clarke Richmond (1782-1876), a whaler, built this Octagon home in his seventies. This was the second home he built in Bristol Rhode Island, the first being the Richmond-Herreshoff House I featured previously. When Lemuel Richmond sold his 1803 Federal style home, his home was empty as his wife passed and all of his children married and moved out of the house. Octagon houses are fairly rare nationwide, and most were built in a small timeframe in the 1850s. The publication of Orson Squire Fowler’s A Home for All: or the Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building in 1853 briefly brought popularity to octagonal structures. The
octagon, according to its proponents, offered greater floor space, increased air and sunlight, and was a healthful natural form. Orson Squire Fowler was a phrenologist (a pseudoscience which involves the measurement of bumps on the skull to predict mental traits) and lecturer who had a huge impact on American architecture, though only for about a decade. The Richmond House in Bristol also features an octagonal cupola, bracketed porch, and a single-room addition over the porch over the front door. Could you live in an Octagon?
Sally Francis Jones, born in Danvers in 1812, married George Nourse in November of 1832, at the age of 20. The couple had two children before 1838, when George was lost at sea and never returned home. Sally lived in the family home for some time until she sold the estate and purchased land from a family friend in town. With both of her children out of the home, she decided to build a distinct Octagon house. Influenced by Joshua Silvester, who built a cement barn in the octagon shape attached to his cement house at 11 Peabody Avenue, today across from the Peabody Institute Library, her home was constructed of a brown concrete and painted a brown color, giving the house the nickname “the mud house”. Ms. Jones resided in the home for ten years, before selling the home. The house remains as one of a few extant Octagon homes in Massachusetts, and a rare example of a concrete Octagon home.
One of the most unique homes close to Boston is the Enoch Robinson House, built in 1854 by its original owner. Enoch Robinson (1801-1888) was a noted inventor and businessman. Born in Boston, he apprenticed to his gunsmith father in a variety of trades including glass-cutting. Robinson moved to East Cambridge in 1825, and entered the New England Glass Company. He developed a patented method of pressing glass furniture knobs in 1826. In 1837, he built a furnace and factory in Boston to manufacture knobs and established a lock business in 1839. With his sons, Robinson operated the lock business for many years. He moved to Somerville in 1847 and built his unique house in 1856.
The house is located on Atherton Street in the Spring Hill neighborhood of Somerville and stands out among traditional late-19th century homes nearby. The home diverts away from Octagon homes because who needs corners anyways. The exterior of the Round House features two flush stories, with a third stepped back behind battlements. The home was vacant by the 1970s until in 1986, a restoration program, led by students from Boston’s North Bennet Street School did a small amount of work renovating the exterior, but the project fell apart and the house remained in a state of decay. The home was purchased by a contractor in 2007 who worked with the Somerville Historical Commission to restore the home to its former glory. It is now a single family home.