Octagonal Buildings in the Valley of Virginia

Stephen Harnsberger House, Grottoes, Rockingham County, Virginia.
Stephen Harnsberger House, Grottoes, Rockingham County, Virginia.

The Harnsberger House, built in 1856, is a rare Rockingham County example of the mid- 19th-century octagonal building fad. While most country builders were constructing single- and double-pile, Georgian-plan houses, Stephen Harnsberger chose the octagonal shape espoused in Orson Fowler’s A Home for All, or the Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building (1853). Although the facade and shape clearly reflect an awareness of new styles, the interior retains the traditional arrangement of spaces in a double-pile, Georgian design. Harnsberger’s brother, Robert Samuel Harnsberger, apparently became intrigued by the new fashion as well; he had an octagonal barn constructed on his farm in neighboring Augusta County. The house, together with the barn, reflects local interpretations of the pattern book styles in this conservative agricultural area — both insert traditional plans and ideals into octagonal shells.

The Harnsberger Octagonal Barn, also known the Mt. Meridian Octagonal Barn, near Grottoes, Augusta County, Virginia.
The Harnsberger Octagonal Barn, also known the Mt. Meridian Octagonal Barn, near Grottoes, Augusta County, Virginia.

The Harnsberger octagonal barn was built ca. 1867 under the direction of carpenter William Evers. The unusual structure is possibly a unique example of its type in Virginia and reflects the penetration of popular architectural ideals into the vernacular cultural patterns of rural Augusta County after the War of Northern Aggression. While most local carpenters were constructing the familiar bank barns, a form which derived from the Pennsylvania region and spread into the Valley of Virginia, Robert Harnsberger drew inspiration from the octagonal building styles popularized by Orson Fowler’s A Home for All, or the Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building (1853). The Harnsberger barn did not copy Fowler’s pattern book designs directly, however. Augusta builders combined these new ideas with more traditional barn building concepts, integrating the new shape with the older bank barn form. Several older residents recall that the basic octagonal shape posed many problems for the local carpenters, who failed to get the barn to fit together correctly and called in others, specifically William Evers of Centerville, to complete it.

Curator: Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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