Octagon shaped house

 

John J. Blauvelt, Jr. inherited this property, which included a pre-Revolutionary War sandstone farmhouse and a saw mill, from his mother in 1832. The property also included a mill pond from which ice was harvested and stored during the winter months and sold during warmer weather. Blauvelt lived here with his wife and three daughters until his death in 1882.

Sometime during the late 1850s, Mr. Blauvelt decided to replace the old farmhouse with a new home of contemporary design. He was reportedly a friend of Orson S. Fowler, who was a publisher, author, philosopher, phrenologist, love and sex oracle and self-styled architect and efficiency expert, who had written A Home for All, or The Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building (1848, revised first edition in 1853). Mr. Fowler persuaded Mr. Blauvelt to build an octagonal house and supposedly designed this modest Italianate-style building for him.

The Blauvelt family helped in the construction of the thick building walls. Fowler's octagonal designs were often built with "gravel wall construction," a mixture of gravel, straw, lime, sand and rubble. Besides being very sturdy, this composition gave the added advantages of fireproofing the exterior walls and serving as a heat sink, which moderated the indoor ambient temperatures during the summer and winter months.

Blauvelt's son-in-law, Garret F. Hering, who was born in New Jersey in 1837, assisted in constructing the new house prior to marrying Blauvelt's daughter, Jane Amelia, in 1859. Upon the demise of John J. Blauvelt, Jr. in 1882, Hering continued the operation of the saw mill and ice business and moved into the "Octagon House" with his wife and three children when she inherited it the following year.

Garret F. Hering was the driving force among those residents of old Mont Vale who petitioned for the creation of the Borough of Montvale. The Hackensack Republican of August 16, 1894 reported "MONT VALE – Garret F. Hering, chief citizen of this community, has secured an order for an election on August 30 to determine whether a borough shall be formed." The citizens of Mont Vale voted 49-0 in favor, and when the County Clerk certified the election results on August 31, 1894, the Borough of Montvale was officially formed.

Mr. Hering was the first Freeholder to represent Montvale in the County Seat at Hackensack in 1894 and the Borough's third Mayor (1898-1901). He was also appointed to be the first President of Montvale's Board of Health in 1895.

In addition to his involvement in municipal and county government and the operation of his lumber and ice businesses and a cider mill that he established around the turn of the century, Garret Hering was, at various times, a station agent for the railroad (reportedly flagging the trains from the Octagon House's belvedere), a justice of the peace and the Borough's postmaster.

The Octagon House was also home to two other Mayors of the Borough. The history of the fifteenth Mayor of Montvale, George Huff (1946-59), and the Octagon House were intertwined over several decades. In 1925, George's father, Frederick, bought the property from the estate of Garret Hering's widow, Amelia; George was fifteen years old at that time. Two years later, after his father had suddenly passed away, George, his mother, Wilhelmena, and his siblings moved into the Octagon House and lived there until 1932.

Until 1927, George helped his father harvest, store and sell the ice from the mill pond. A year after his father's death, George and his mother, together with a partner, built an ice plant on the property to manufacture ice, and George operated the ice plant until 1959.

Wilhelmena Huff sold the Octagon House to the fourteenth Mayor of Montvale, Jules Schwenker (1942-45), and Mayor Schwenker lived there for approximately one year.

Then, after the property and house had changed hands several times, George Huff and his wife, Agnes, bought the Octagon House in 1955 and operated a very fine restaurant there for almost four years.

Despite the many interests and talents of Orson Squires Fowler, it was his interest in architecture that resulted in his most lasting impact on his fellow man. Fowler believed that the Gothic, Italianate and Greek Revival houses being built were for the wealthy and privileged, but were hardly suited for the average man.

He offered the octagon-shaped house as the scientific answer to America's housing needs. With the same square footage of walls, his octagon plan enclosed 20% more space than the conventional rectangular building. Not only that, it provided light and air from every direction, and its central core utilities could be clustered efficiently. Far ahead of his time, Fowler advocated indoor plumbing, central heating and dumbwaiters as essential equipment for the ordinary home. His floor plans did not call for pie-shaped rooms but dedicated the odd angles created by the octagon shape to closets and other ancillary uses.

In 1848, Orson Squires Fowler wrote and published a book called A Home for All, which was revised and copyrighted in 1853 with a new sub-title, A Home for All, or The Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building. During those intervening five years, Fowler had discovered "nature's building material" of coarse sand, gravel and lime, which he called gravel wall and proclaimed it "better than brick or wood and not as expensive … abundant everywhere, cheap durable and complete throughout … The superiority of this plan must certainly revolutionize building, and especially enable poor men to build their own homes."

By 1853, Fowler's own octagon house near Fishkill, NY, which he helped to build, was ready for occupancy. Three stories high, it contained sixty rooms and included entries, a basement and a twenty-foot glass-domed octagonal cupola. Each of the upper floors contained twenty rooms, among them a playroom and dancing room, a gymnastics room for unlaced female dress reformers, a dressing room for every bedroom, a library and a room for minerals, shells and portraits, and author's study and a prophet's chamber. Many visitors were attracted to "Fowler's Folly" overlooking the Hudson River, and all went well for a few years until mounting unemployment and a multitude of bank failures resulted in the "Panic" of 1857, which brought an end to the octagon fad and to Orson Fowler's resources.

Fowler's book, A Home for All, was widely circulated. It reached as far abroad as England, France, China and the Sandwich Islands. In the United States, especially in the eastern portion, the book spawned at least a thousand buildings. They ranged in size, but most were two-story homes built in small towns. Octagons tended to appeal to individualists and free-thinkers, who, like Fowler, believed they could improve their lives with better design. It is not know how many octagon houses were built in New Jersey, but an authority on such structures in the NJDEP's Historic Preservation Office claims that only nine remain.