I read about a mid-19th century octagon house in Virginia that was being restored and I wondered if there were any remaining octagon houses in Kentucky. The only one that I found is known as Octagon Cottage. It’s located near Beckton and Rocky Hill in Barren County.
I found a wonderfully comprehensive account of Octagon Cottage in Gclee’s blog on WordPress: Urban Legends of Barren County. Gclee is a genealogy and local history hunter from Barren County, Kentucky.
- This unusual house is tucked back off the Beckton-Rocky Hill Road, off of Hwy 1297, very near the small hamlet of Beckton, KY. It was built in the year 1847, by William Henry Edmunds, with the help of Reuben Bates, for Edmunds’ first wife, Amanda Moss Edmunds. Amanda was the daughter of Josiah Moss, who ran the Glasgow Hotel in the early 1800s, an establishment that has been long gone, and sat on the corner of the Public Square where West Washington Street enters, and until recently was the location of Glasgow Prescription Center. This would be the corner diagonal to the Beulah Nunn Park.
- Built entirely of poplar, the one-story frame house on a stone foundation has plain exterior detailing. The front facade contains the entrance way with a transom and sidelights. It has 4 large hexagonal rooms and 4 small triangular ones. The ceilings are 16 feet high with 10 ft. doors, and the windows are framed inside with fluted Ionic plasters. A 10 ft. square brick central chimney with 4 flues serves the 4 principal rooms. For a brief time this architectural form flourished in some parts of the country.
- Within 60 feet of the house were built 4 octagonal outbuildings placed at the principal sides of the house. At the front was an office from which the large farm was run. There was also a carriage house, and a kitchen, and a washhouse were at the rear of the house. Only the office survived to modern times, and was only torn down a few years back because it was in sad disrepair.
- Edmunds also commissioned a bed with octagonal posts, and it survives today. It is on display at the Kentucky Museum on the Western Kentucky University campus, along with a fabulous display of quilts. This display will last through August. I am uncertain if the bed now belongs to the Museum, or if it is only on loan.William Henry Edmunds was a businessman and lawyer, although he never practiced law. He graduated from Augusta College, in Augusta, KY, in Bracken County, along the Ohio River in the northeastern part of the state. This town is known more widely as the hometown of Nick Clooney, father of actor George Clooney. It is also noted that William Henry Harrison stayed the night at General John Payne’s home in Augusta on his way to his fateful inauguration.
- Edmunds was a Greek scholar, and could also read Hebrew and Latin. He was a veteran of the Mexican War and the Civil War. His son Bryant described his father as “a dreamer, thoroughly impractical, intelligent, a lady’s man.” Bryant also stated he loved to dance, he played a little poker, and was an occasional drinker. As a product of his times and station, he was an avid foxhunter, and loved to talk politics.
- Wm. Henry and Amanda Moss Edmunds had three children, Crittenden Moss, William, and Henry, who died in infancy. Edmunds married second in 1877 to Sammie Alice Crain. By this union was produced 6 offspring: Bryant Ralston, Chase, Carrie Bell (Page), Lucille (Lykens), Jimmie, and Mary Ann (Barnhill).
- Bryant says of his mother, Sammie Edmunds, she was “a human dynamo when it came to getting the job done.” He states that she was still riding horseback at the age of 84. After Wm. Henry Edmunds died in 1900, Sammie continued to own the house until 1930, when it came into the possession of their youngest daughter, Mary Ann Barnhill. Barnhill was said to have been the first woman lawyer in Barren County, although she didn’t practice here. She was a professor at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY. In Barnhill’s will, the house reverted to Mrs. Alice Courtner, Barnhill’s niece and the granddaughter of Wm. Henry Edmunds
- On an end note, Bryant stated his father built the house 300 yards from the spring, joking he wished to give the servants a work out. Bryant ruefully commented that the children most often got one as well, after the Civil War freed the slaves.
- Below the house, which sits on a slight rise, is a cave on the bank of Green Creek. It was used to store vegetables and other staples, in the olden days, and is now a bat preserve, with warning signs posted at its entrance. The house itself is truly one of the unique houses in Barren County, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places on 20 July 1983.
This isn’t the floor plan for the Octagon Cottage in Barren County, but it will give you an idea of what the floor plan might have looked like, using the description given in Gclee’s blog:
- one-story frame house on a stone foundation with plain exterior detailing (this floor plan shows the 1st floor of two.)
- The front facade contains the entrance way with a transom and sidelights.
- It has 4 large hexagonal rooms and 4 small triangular ones.
- A 10 ft. square brick central chimney with 4 flues serves the 4 principal rooms (this one shows a side chimney.)
I look forward to exploring more of Gclee’s stories. If you enjoyed this post, I’m sure you will want to take a look at the Urban Legends of Barren blog, too.
Additional Information about octagon houses:
If you’re curious about whether there are any octagon houses in your area, take a look at this list of octagon houses.
This article about the Abijah Thomas house in Virginia is what piqued my interest in octagon houses in the first place.
In trying to find a likely floor plan for the Octagon Cottage, I came across this useful article: Octagons: A Popular Design in the 1860s