The Octagonal Home

This is the second octagonal house that George Gallup’s father (George Henry Gallup) had built in Jefferson, the other one being a smaller dwelling on North Elm Street constructed in 1893 (no longer standing) that the Gallups lived in prior to moving to their home on South Chestnut Street. Gallup had his new house built on 12 acres that he had purchased from the 160-acre farm owned by his father, John Nelson Gallup.

Eight-sided houses enjoyed some popularity in Iowa around the Civil War period, but George Gallup’s houses were the first in the Jefferson area. According to an article in the Des Moines Sunday Register titled “Eight Sides to Story of Octagon Houses,” July 17, 1983:

The man credited with starting an octagon house craze in Iowa and around the country was a phrenologist, Orson Squire Fowler. In 1848, he published “A Home for All: Or a New, Cheap, Convenient, and Superior Mode of Building… Why continue to build in the same square form of all past ages?” asked Fowler. “Nature’s forms are mostly spherical…then why not apply her forms to houses?”

The article continues:

The heyday of the octagonal house was 1856-78, said Ralph Christian, architectural historian with the Iowa Historical Department. Christian said Fowler, who spoke in some of Iowa’s Mississippi River towns, claimed he invented the design and that living in an octagonal house would cure all evils.

Actually, the Greeks and Romans built eight-sided structures, and Thomas Jefferson had an interest in the octagon, noted Christian.

Ted’s father had a practical explanation for these unusual structures. More light was provided by exposing more sides to the sun. The buildings were supposed to be easier to heat. Another advantage of this style of architecture was the deflection it provided from frontal wintry blasts.

A basic reason behind Gallup’s attraction to this kind of structure was undoubtedly his natural inclination to fly in the face of convention. When considering plans for his house, he was heard to remark that he wanted to build something other than the usual “hat box.” Ted Gallup said about his father, not without admiration: “he wouldn’t do anything in the orthodox way. That was his philosophy.”

The house was carefully planned and well-made. George Gallup had three nails used where one might do. Beautiful woods were used inside.

The house was a child’s dream, made to order for “hide-and-seek” and impromptu plays in the attic, with all sorts of props available, including the Civil War uniform of Ted’s grandfather, John Nelson, who had participated in “Sherman’s March to the Sea” during the Civil War, and lived in the Gallup House with his wife Happy Kinnie for the final years of their lives. The only room in the 10-room house shut off from the Gallup children and their hordes of friends was the parlor.

But the house that won the child’s affection demanded their care. Until city water was brought in, John and Ted Gallup had to go to the basement to pump water into a tank in the attic. No less than 20 tons of coal were needed per year to heat the house in the cold Iowa winters, and at that, only a part of the house was heated. The two Gallup boys spent a lot of time shoveling.

Ted Gallup described the home’s design as “pretty functional,” especially in one instance when the roof caught fire. When he discovered the fire, Gallup said he climbed to the roof, positioned himself on a flat area and tossed the burning shingles. That flat portion of the roof, made necessary by the house’s design, enabled Gallup to keep his balance and save the structure from burning.