Skip to main content

Eight More Octagons

May 2024
1min read


Isn’t there an Octagon House in Washington, D. C., that antedates Fowler by many years? During the First World War I delivered some documents to that building, which was then in use by a branch of the government. I seem to remember that it had served the government many years previously, after the attempt to burn the White House during the War of 1812.

Perhaps a little research will either verify my memory or find me entirely at fault.

Built by Dr. William Thornton in 1800 and used as a temporary White House during the winter of 1814, The Octagon is now a museum of decorative arts. Despite its name it is not considered a true octagon because its sides are not of equal length, as the drawing and photograph above demonstrate .

Finally, while preparing an article on Huckleberry Finn which will appear in a future issue, one of the editors spotted a photo of Mark Twain peering out from the ivy-covered octagonal study (below) on the grounds of Quarry Farm, his home near Elmira, New York. His view from eight spacious windows, Twain wrote, commanded “leagues of valley and city and retreating ranges of distant blue hills. It is a cosy nest, with just room in it for a sofa and a table and three or four chairs—and when the storms sweep down the remote valley and the lightning flashes above the hills below and the rain beats upon the roof over my head, imagine the luxury of it!” Today Quarry Farm belongs to Elmira College, and Twain’s luxurious little hideaway has been moved to the campus, where it is open to the public.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.

Donate