Long-gone Octagons

    The octagon house was something of a nineteenth century fad. The peak years for this type of
    construction were about 1846 to 1865. In 1855, the Woonsocket Patriot sent a reporter to Hopedale to do
    an article about the Hopedale Community. One of the things that he noted was that, "Of dwelling-houses
    there are forty-one, including three concrete octagons."

    The picture above at the top is of a house that was once on Prospect Street. It was probably the longest
    lasting of the three Hopedale octagons. It was known as "The Castle."

    The second photo shows an octagon house that was a bit north of where the Griffin-Dennett apartments
    are now - about at the present location of 96 Hopedale Street. It's the house about in the middle of the
    picture, and has a cupola on the roof.

    The third picture is an 1888 "picture map" shows the Prospect Street house and also one on Dutcher
    Street. The Dutcher Street octagon was just south of the Hopedale House, which, at that time was a
    boarding house. Now it's an apartment house called Hopedale Manor, located across Dutcher Street
    from the fire station. An addition was put on the boarding house later, which is why the building in the
    picture looks much smaller than it does now. The picture below the map was taken of the house at 33
    Dutcher Street, but look to the left. You'll get a glimpse of a one-story octagon house. It didn't last long after
    the map was drawn. Another Hopedale picture map was done in 1898, and it was gone by then. The
    picture at the bottom shows the neighborhood after the octagon was replaced by the house that's now at
    35 Dutcher Street. The apartment (boarding) house is back to the left and 35 Dutcher is to the right of it.

    Octagons didn't have a very good survival rate. None of the three in Hopedale are still standing. I had
    seen pictures of the one on Prospect Street, and the 1888 map showed the Dutcher Street house, but it
    took a while to find out where the third had been located.

    In the spring of 2005, Elaine and I were asked to go to Memorial School to help identify locations in some
    of the old Hopedale pictures they have. There, in one of the pictures, was the third octagon house I had
    been wondering about for some time. (The second picture on this page.) The view shows the General
    Draper house (now the site of the high school) on the right, the original Unitarian Church, (on the site of
    the present Unitarian Church) at the back, slightly right of center, and the octagon house (with a cupola on
    the roof) in the middle. The picture was taken from the south, from about where the Griffin-Dennett
    Apartments are now.

    The only surviving octagon house I know of in the area is on Fruit Street in Milford. (Fruit Street begins at
    Route 16, just a few hundred yards east of Milford Hospital. The octagon house is just a short distance up
    on the right. See photos below this text box.) I remember one on Maple Avenue in South Grafton, but that
    disappeared about twenty years ago. Hopedale does have a newer octagon building; the Father Riley
    Center at Sacred Heart Church.  Another octagon is the tomb of the George Albert Draper family at
    Hopedale Village Cemetery.

    The big promoter of octagon houses seems to have been Orson Fowler. Here's a bit about him and his
    houses from a website about an octagon in Michigan.

    The octagon mode may be the first pure American housing style, considering that most previous building
    forms were adopted from European architecture. Thomas Jefferson was one of America's earliest
    advocates of octagon configurations, designing over 50 buildings with a manifested octagonal feature. An
    octagon garden schoolhouse enhances George Washington's stately Mount Vernon. Mark Twain wrote
    Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in an octagonal study patterned after a riverboat pilot's cabin.

    But the leading promoter of eight-sided structures was Orson Squire Fowler. Fowler was America's
    foremost lecturer and writer on phrenology, the pseudo-science of defining an individual's characteristics
    by the contours of the head. In the middle of the 19th century, Fowler made his mark on American
    architecture when he touted the advantages of octagonal homes over rectangular and square structures in
    his widely publicized book, The Octagon House: A Home for All. According to Fowler, an octagon house
    was cheaper to build, allowed for additional living space, received more natural light, was easier to heat,
    and remained cooler in the summer. This last attribute was an important point when the ruling principles
    of Victorian air conditioning were, avoid direct sun and pray for a breeze.

    As a result of Orson Fowler's authoritative publication, a few thousand octagonal houses were erected -
    mostly on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Nationwide, less than 500 of these very rare, romantic,
    Victorian-era homes are still standing. Even in their heyday, octagon houses never lined city street and
    neighborhood blocks. On the contrary, an eight-sided home seemed to be the choice of the individualists,
    standing defiant among four-sided neighbors.


    Click here for an extensive site listing of octagons, some still existing, others gone, done by Robert Kline
    and Ellen Puerzer. The collection is divided by states ((83 houses in Massachusetts - Most octagons, with
    some round, some 10-sided and some 12-sided) and then organized by counties. A book on octagon
    houses by Kine and Puerzer is available at the Bancroft Library.

                                           
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                                Below - Octagon house on Fruit Street Milford.Photos taken in 2007.
 

    This map from 1870 shows that the Dutcher Street octagon house was
    owned by William Bancroft. At that time however, the street was named
    High Street. The lower cross street was Union Street and the upper one,
    Social Street.   Click here to see the entire map.

    This octagon house on Prospect Street, near the corner of Union, was
    owned by the Hopedale Machine Company. That was one of a number of
    companies owned and operated by the Draper family.  

The Dutcher Street octagon house is on the left in this photo.

Google Earth view.