TEXT BY JULIE SENK
PHOTOGRAPHED BY MAINE HOME PHOTOGRAPHY
West Gardiner’s Octagon House is an attention-grabbing artifact of a 19th-century fad.
In the 1850s, Jesse Tucker had a home built in West Gardiner that was so unusual passersby would stop to watch the workers raising it up. The dwelling’s circular, eight-sided design was cutting edge — one of just a handful of octagon houses built in Maine during the mid-19th century.
Just what attracted Tucker to such an unorthodox house is unknown. His niece, Rebecca, who lived there for many years, believed he found the design in an architectural pattern book. The style was introduced by Orson Squire Fowler, a New York phrenologist who believed an octagon was the optimal shape for a residence, letting in sunlight and ventilation throughout the day and offering views in all directions.
Fowler’s ideas were intriguing, but fell short in execution — rooms often had only one window, awkward corners resulted in irregular spaces — and octagon houses proved to be a short-lived craze. A few thousand were built in the United States and Canada, and demand quickly faded after 1860.
Soon after Tucker’s home was completed, he fell from a barn on the property and succumbed to his injuries. But the building remained in his family for nearly a century and continued to attract attention. In 1919, a reporter for the Daily Kennebec Journal marveled, “Where are the closets? How are the halls arranged? Do they have octagon beds, and do they eat from eight-sided tables?” Even today, the polygon makes people stop and gawk, just as it did when it first appeared on the landscape.