The Octagon Homes of Orson Fowler

Orson Fowler wished to design the most effective home, however he detested the normal boxy shapes. Too many proper angles, he thought. In his thoughts, the circle was essentially the most pure form, however since a round home was tough to assemble out of wooden, he made a compromise—the octagon.

Fowler began a craze for eight-sided homes, that lasted all through the second half of the nineteenth century, with the publication of his e-book, The Octagon Home: A Residence for All, in 1848. “The octagon kind is extra lovely in addition to capacious, and extra consonant with the predominant and governing type of nature, the spherical,” Fowler wrote.

The Wealthy-Twinn Octagon Home in Akron, New York, was in-built 1849 and was restored to its present state within the Nineteen Nineties. Immediately it’s a home museum and is often open for touring. Photograph: Zrfphoto /

Fowler was America’s foremost lecturer and practitioner of phrenology, a pseudoscience that seeks to trace down a person’s many character traits to the bumps and dents on his cranium. This quack idea was initially developed by a German doctor named Franz Joseph Gall in 1796, and though his writings weren’t universally accepted, many discovered advantage in his arguments, as a result of it helped justify the prevailing prejudices, comparable to racism (Fowler wrote that coarse hair of African folks correlated with coarse fibers within the mind, and thus coarse emotions) and gender stereotyping (the attribute form of a girl’s head was believed to be indication of underdeveloped organs crucial for achievement within the arts and sciences.)

Fowler arrange workplaces in Manhattan, Boston, and Philadelphia, and finally in London, the place he felt the heads of his purchasers and made an estimate of their character, in a lot the identical means an astrologer reads palms and predicts the long run. Fowler attracted many notable personalities together with President James Garfield, John Brown the abolitionist, Oliver Wendell Holmes the jurist and writer, and Clara Barton, the long run founding father of the American Crimson Cross. Fowler reportedly instructed Barton, then 15 years previous, that “she would by no means assert herself for herself …and that she would undergo improper first—however for others she can be fearless.”

chart of phrenology

A chart of phrenology from “Webster’s Educational Dictionary”, circa 1895. Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

Fowler additionally attracted Mark Twain, however not as a result of the latter believed in phrenology. Twain appeared earlier than Fowler in disguise to check the phrenologist, and allowed him to look at Twain’s head. Fowler ran his hand over the author’s head and introduced that he discovered a small cavity in Twain’s head the place there ought to have been a bump. Fowler noticed that this represented a complete absence of a “humorousness”. Twain felt humiliated by this evaluation, however he swallowed his delight and saved his emotions to himself. Three months later, Twain went again to Fowler for a second opinion, however this time revealed his identification. Twain was amused when Fowler instantly discovered the loftiest “bump of humor” the place he had beforehand discovered a cavity.

Orson Fowler

Orson Fowler

Fowler’s research in phrenology took him into one other area, the place as a substitute of finding out the contours of the cranium he started to check the shapes of homes. It was underneath this new position as an architect, that Fowler proposed the octagon home. Fowler argued that the octagon afforded elevated ground house for a similar perimeter as that of a sq. or rectangular home, and bigger wall areas for home windows which translated to extra gentle. It wasted much less house on hallways since all rooms radiated from one central corridor. Not solely an octagonal home was extra wholesome to reside in, it was additionally less expensive to construct.

As an instance and justify the technical and ideological proposals that the e-book outlined, Fowler constructed an impressive octagonal home for his household in Fishkill, New York. The home had 4 flooring and sixty rooms and forty different miscellaneous rooms and closets. On the heart stood a spiral staircase that rose seventy toes to a glass enclosed octagonal cupola. Every ground was encircled by a porch that went all the best way round. The home had central heating, operating water, indoor flush bathrooms, a roof cistern to gather rain water, pure fuel lighting, and a water filtration system. There have been talking tubes for inter-communication between the varied rooms, and dumbwaiters to deliver meals from the kitchen within the basement to the eating room.

Orson Fowler’s house in Fishkill, New York

Orson Fowler’s home in Fishkill, New York. Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

Fowler’s thought of octagon-shaped homes caught on without delay, and a whole bunch of octagonal homes have been constructed throughout United States and Canada. The fad continued into the Eighteen Nineties, however the majority of those homes have been constructed within the 1860s, earlier than the American Civil Warfare.

In response to one estimate, greater than two thousand octagonal homes nonetheless stand; many of those at the moment are designated Nationwide Historic Landmarks of the USA. Notable examples embrace an octagonal home named Longwood in Natchez, Mississippi, constructed by millionaire cotton supplier, Dr. Haller Nutt; Armour-Stiner Home within the Hudson River valley in New York, which is maybe the one domed octagon home on the planet; The Octagon Home in Washington, D.C. the place President Madison lived after the White Home was burnt by the British; Thomas Jefferson’s retreat Poplar Forest; and Could’s Folly in Georgia, to call a number of.

Armour–Stiner House

Armour–Stiner Home in Irvington, New York, in-built 1859. Photograph: csouza_79/Wikimedia Commons

The McElroy Octagon House on Gough St. San Francisco, California

The McElroy Octagon Home on Gough St. San Francisco, California, in-built 1861. Photograph: David Edelman /

Yale-Cady Octagon House in in Newport, New York

Yale-Cady Octagon Home in in Newport, New York, in-built 1849. Photograph: Debra Millet /

Ezekiel B. Zimmerman’s octagon house

Ezekiel B. Zimmerman’s octagon home, in-built 1883, in Ohio. Photograph: Tom Bower/Wikimedia Commons

# John H. Martin, Saints, Sinners and Reformers, The Crooked Lake Review
# Eliseu Gonçalves, The Octagon within the Homes of Orson Fowler, Nexus Network Journal

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