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Local Legacies: Rare octagonal house torn down near Hannibal, Mo.

Mary Lou Montgomery

From the Hannibal Courier-Post archives

Published May 24, 1980

Octagonal houses, designed to save steps, made the best use of floor area and allow for better heating, are rare in the United States.

It is believed that the only octagonal house in Missouri was located seven miles west of Hannibal off of U.S. 36.

The decaying house, built in 1857, was torn down in 1980 by its owners, Mr. and Mrs. LeRoy Taylor, so the land could be used for a new house.

The two-story, seven-room building was of unusual grout construction. In this area, there is only one other known house built in this style.

During the construction, forms were laid in the eight-sided position and large boulders and rocks were dropped between the forms. A type of concrete was then poured into the forms, creating the grout walls.

After the foundation dried, a layer of plaster was smoothed over the outside surface to create a smooth look. Wood siding was installed on the exterior of the house, probably in the 1930s.

The house was surrounded by large trees, and because it sat back from the highway it was rarely noticed by passersby. The wooden siding also camouflaged the grout construction.

The history of octagonal houses was explained in 1948 by Orson Squire Fowler in the book, "A Home for All or the Gravel Wall and the Octagon Mode of Building."

According to Fowler, all but a few of the octagonal buildings in America were built after the Civil War.

Esley Hamilton, an architectural consultant working on an historic building study in Hannibal (in 1980) said Fowler had his own concrete octagonal house at Fishkill, N.Y. It was four stories tall and had 65 rooms.

Hamilton said Fowler got the idea of the "gravel wall" from Joseph Goodrich, the founder of Milton, Wis., who had used the method there in 1844. He described grout houses as "houses built wholly of lime, mixed with that coarse gravel and sand found in banks on the western prairies."

The local house was built by Frederick Blatchford, who moved to the area from Bridgeport, Conn. He was attracted to Marion County during the development of Marion City and Presbyterian College.

Information provided by Hurley and Roberta Hagood, local historians, reveals that Blatchford became the owner of a 2,000-acre tract of land near West Ely. He owned 60 slaves and was considered well-to-do.

When he built the house in 1857, the work was done primarily by slaves. The walls were built of native stone and rubble, cemented together. The house also had a full basement. One speaking tube, used to communicate with the slaves, was installed in the interior walls of the house.

According to the Hagoods, Blatchford freed his slaves at the beginning of the Civil War. His wife died in 1866, and he left the area in 1867 or 1868. He died in Oberlin, Ohio, on Oct. 6, 1883.

The Taylors, upon examining the abstract to their property, have found that there have been many owners since Blatchford.

As the demolition work began, papers dating to the late 1700s were found, referring to a church in England. Letters, written between family members, were found in the attic of the house. They were badly decayed, but some were still legible.

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