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

    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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    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. In the photo below, the house inside the red circle
    evidently replaced the Dutcher Street octagon on that site.

    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 view shown above looks north along Hopedale Street, toward the
    center of town. The octagon house, in the center of the picture, was
    somewhere on Hopedale Street, south of the center of town,but for some
    years I wasn't sure if it was nearer to the present location of the Post
    Office, or further south. Although I'd looked at an 1870 map of Hopedale
    shown in part below many times, it wasn't until I was looking for something
    else in September 2017 that I noticed that the location of the Hopedale
    Street octagon house is shown on it. It's at the bottom of the map below,
    and Machine Co. is given as the owner. It was where the Griffin-Dennett
    Apartments are now. Click here if you'd like to see the entire 1870 map.

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

Google Earth view.

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