Wednesday, Jul. 17, 2019

The Octagon House – 150 Years Young

By Bob Battersby · August 28, 2014

The Octagon House being moved to its new location, 1967 <span>&copy; Marin Independent Journal </span>

The Octagon House being moved to its new location, 1967

The Octagon House in its new Location circa 1968/9 <span>&copy;  </span> The Octagon House as it stands today <span>&copy;  </span>

The Moya Library/Ross Historical Society and the Town of Ross will be celebrating the 150th birthday of the Octagon House on September 19. The Octagon House is a both a true example of American ingenuity and a connection with the past. The Octagon is an under-used treasure on the grounds of the Marin Art and Garden Center in the Town of Ross. It was the first home of George and Annie Sophia Worn. Annie Sophia was the daughter of James Ross the namesake of the Town of Ross.

The building was home to the Worns while their new home ‘Sunnyside’ was being built. It was said to be used as a tank house that would hold a water tank in its second story that would provide a water source for the new home. Whether or not this was the real intention, the question remains “why an octagon and not a plain cottage like everyone else had?” It could be that the Worns were young, rich and could afford it, they wanted to make a statement or they might have been influenced by Orson Squire Fowler.

In the 1840s, Fowler was America's foremost lecturer and writer on phrenology, the pseudoscience of defining an individual's characteristics by the contours of the head. Later, 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, or A New, Cheap, Convenient, and Superior Mode of Building, printed in the year 1848. As a result of this popular and influential publication, a few thousand octagonal houses were erected in the United States, mostly in the Midwest, the East Coast and Canada.

Considered by many to be the first pure American housing style, the octagonal style is much different from the styles of architecture brought over from Europe. Thomas Jefferson was one of America's earliest advocates of octagon configurations, designing over fifty buildings with octagonal features.

A fire that destroyed ‘Sunnyside’ in 1931 left the Octagon House untouched and it remained where it was until it was moved to its present location in 1967. Before 1967 this once proud building was put to various undignified uses and for the most part was a storage shed. After it was moved and completely refurbished one of its first tenants was a ladies group called the Pathfinders who put it to use as a Tea Room to raise money to help support the Art and Garden Center.

Today there are as many as 1,000 remaining octagon houses that were built in the United States between 1848 and 1920.  The Octagon House Inventory by Ellen L. Peurzer has documented twenty-five octagon houses that were built in California.  Eight survive today and four are located in the Bay Area.

Parts of this article were sourced from the web encyclopedia – Wikipedia.

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Robert Battersby wrote almost 5 years ago

In celebration of the 150th anniversary of our 1864 Octagon House, the ANNUAL MEETING will feature an illustrated program titled EIGHT IS ENOUGH: The Surprisingly Radical History of the Octagon House and its Importance in Transforming American Residential Architecture. JAMES DIXON, an expert in S F Victorian &amp; Edwardian architecture and whose mentor was Aaron Green, will speak on the history of the Ross Octagon House and its place in the larger picture of architecture in the S F Bay Area. After the presentation a luncheon will be served. Following the luncheon, all Moya/RHS members and guests are invited to attend the Annual Meeting, to be held in the Octagon House.


Robert Battersby wrote almost 5 years ago

Re: The comment above.

After the presentation, a luncheon will be served. For luncheon reservations, send $45 by September 15 to Moya/RHS, Attn: Ruth Barton, PO Box 437, Ross, CA 94957. For lecture only, $5 at the door.

For more information, call 415-461-1972 or go to

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