Franklin Countys First News

Historical society begins campaign to acquire Octagon House

The Farmington Historical Society is kicking off a campaign to raise money for the purchase of the 154-year-old Octagon House on the corner of Perham and High streets.

FARMINGTON - If enough funding can be raised by next spring, the  stately eight-sided home that sits prominently at the center of downtown will become the third property of the Farmington Historical Society.

The two-story home known as the Octagon House on the corner of High and Perham streets was owned by the late Deborah Mallett Cressall, 74, who died this year on Feb. 26. This summer, the Mallett family offered the Historical Society the opportunity to purchase the home at a greatly reduced sale price so that it can be opened for the public to enjoy.

"They were very, very generous with their offer," said Taffy Davis, society's president. The local organization has been given until May 30, 2013 to come up with the purchase amount. With that, the organization is kicking off a capital campaign to raise $250,000 for the historic home's purchase, which includes renovations such as roof replacement over the ell and drainage work around  the home  to be combined with work needed to complete the North Church's lower level renovation, so it too, can be open for the public.

This photo of the octagon house may have been taken in 1890 or early 1900s (Photo courtesy of Steve Mallett)

The Octagon House in Farmington was built in 1858 by the local mason Cyrus Ramsdell. The Victorian Italianate- style home was based on Orson Squire  Fowler's  designs of octagon-shaped houses, which was all the rage in the 1850s. Fowler believed a home's round shape, designed with rooms that surround a central staircase, made for better air circulation and encouraged socialization. Ramsdell's Farmington version  includes an eight-sided glass cupola that spills light down the stairwell to the first floor. Five rooms run in a circle downstairs while the seven bedrooms upstairs that have been squared off by walls with the extra corners hidden in closets.

Ramsdell only lived in the home for 10 years then sold it to his brother Hiram Ramsdell who lived in the house until his death in 1903, according to the historical society's notes. The house was sold and converted into apartments. It fell into disrepair until Wilbert G. Mallett, principal of the Farmington Normal School, now the University of Maine at Farmington, purchased it in 1912.

Anne Mallett of Farmingon, said her father, Richard Mallett told her the story of how the Octagon House was purchased by her grandfather Wilbert Mallett.

"I remember father telling me about when he was three years old in 1912 and went with his father to see the house which was up for sale. The owner told him, 'you don't want this house,' and tried to talk him out of it," Mallett said. Fortunately, Wilbert would not be dissuaded from the purchase.

Over the last century, the Mallett family, first Wilbert, then his son Emery Mallett and finally his daughter Deborah Mallett Cressall, took tender loving care of the home. They invested quite a bit of money on the continuing renovation and upkeep of the home, Mallett said. The stately home remains today as Cressall had left it - filled with antiques and family artifacts.

"Debbie did a nice job taking care of it. I always loved how she had a Christmas tree up in the cupola with the lights on during the holidays. It was like a beacon," Mallett said, adding, "It was Debbie's favorite holiday."

Decisions on what the family may want to keep or will stay with the home are still under discussion, Davis said.

Only 19 octagon houses remain in Maine and 400 are believed left in the U.S., according to octagon inventory.

The historic society's strategic planning committee members see the acquisition of the Octagon House, which is currently on the National Register of Historic Places, as an important one. The society, founded in 1961, currently owns the North Church and the Titcomb House, each located within easy walking distance of the Octagon House. The plan is to have all three buildings of historical significance  work in concert as new programs and events are developed, members said.

Members of the Farmington Historical Society, from left to right: Taffy Davis, Cindy Holschuh, Buzz Davis, Carl Holschuh and Cindy Stevens, stand near the entryway of the Octagon House.

The vision includes the North Church as a welcoming center with a dramatic space for performance events and an educational venue for local school children programs. The North Church, located a block north on High Street from the Octagon House, has undergone several renovations in the past years, but more is needed for it to open to the public. The building needs to be handicap accessible, bathrooms to be installed, along with flooring and interior wall siding. An estimate of $50,000 is needed for accomplishing the renovations.

The Titcomb House, located a long block south on High Street from the Octagon House, is currently a home museum. The society envisions continuing its purpose and adding changing displays and making it a center for historical research.

Initial plans for the Octagon House are that it will be the center of community events, displays and possibly house a gift shop. Davis noted that all the tour buses stopping in Farmington these days could offer its customers an historic walk through the unique home as part of their Farmington experience.

In the meantime, fund raising events are in the works including opening the house up for the first time to the public on Chester Greenwood Day on Dec. 1 this year. Local florists and other merchants will be decorating rooms in the home and tours will be offered.

Standing in the front parlor, Cindy Holschuh, an historic society member,  looked around and said, "It will be a chance to get people really excited about this home like we are."

The Mallett cousins, Anne, Grant, Steve and Dick, all believe the house should be open for the public to enjoy. Anne Mallett said the idea of offering it to the Historical Society began with her twin brother Steve.

"He said wouldn't it be great if the Historical Society could take it over," Mallett said. "It's such an architectural gem that should be preserved. I think Debbie would be thrilled, if it turns out that way."

"They know what the real value of this place is," Davis said of the Mallett family. "They want the community in here and this is a tremendous opportunity for us. We really need the community's support."

Along with the fund raisers in the works, donations for the project will be gratefully accepted anytime and can be sent to: The Farmington Historical Society, P.O. Box 575, Farmington, ME 04938

One of two front parlor rooms in the Octagon House that lead in a circular path to the adjoining music room.

The view of the house from across Perham Street. The glassed-in porch, at right, was a Mallett family addition to the historic home.

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13 Responses »

  1. This is so exciting! It is a beautiful house and I am sure Debbie would be pleased.

  2. What an amazing opportunity for The Farmington Historical Society, and very generous of the Mallett family to offer this beautiful home so we may all enjoy it..

  3. I've always wanted to go inside this home. It's been a landmark in Farmington for decades. Sign me up for a tour!

  4. Yes grab it up before the university does

  5. I will love to see the inside of this interesting house. Best of luck to the historical society in raising the money to purchase the place.

  6. Having a comfortable space for research will be such a gift to the community. The resources that have been accumulated are amazing. And preservation of those pieces continues, so they can be viewed by others. Our files are full of some of the most amazing old pictures. Our present bookcases are busting out with old scrapbook & ledgers (over 150); we have old maps, and various other research materials. Some of our most
    interesting pieces are ORIGINAL militia lists of Farmington and other local towns - dating back to 1802; one goes back to 1799. And pictures....those are always a hit. When people don't want to give, we ask for digital images; our digital images are increasing all the time.
    We're now sharing pictures on our Facebook page. Please "Like" us. New images are added as time permits. If you have anything you'd like to share, please contact Taffy.

  7. What a great offer from the Mallett family. Debbie would be very happy.

  8. Exciting! Have always loved this home since I was a little girl. Thank you Mallett family for this opportunity!

  9. What a wonderful opportunity! Thank you to the Mallett Family!

  10. Yeah we don't want UMF getting it, remember the old house going up Abbot Hill?

  11. I've always wondered how the furniture fit in an 8 sided house?!?

    What happens when the bad kid is told to "stand in the corner"?!?

    FYI. One of the State's biggest, and going out on a limb, also likely the only, tuliptree (tulip poplar) in Farmington is next to this house on the corner of Perham and High Streets.

    It's great the Historical Society is going to "branch out". The octogon house will be very

  12. The Mallett House would also be a great place to showcase Sadie Pearson's antique doll collection.