Wisconsin Historical Society

Property Record


Architecture and History Inventory
919 CHARLES ST | Property Record | Wisconsin Historical Society
Historic Name:John Richards House
Other Name:Octagon House
Reference Number:7125
Location (Address):919 CHARLES ST
Unincorporated Community:
Quarter Section:
Quarter/Quarter Section:
Year Built:1854
Additions:C. 1981
Survey Date:19862012
Historic Use:house
Architectural Style:Octagon
Structural System:
Wall Material:Cream Brick
Architect:John Richards
Other Buildings On Site:
Demolished Date:
National/State Register Listing Name: Octagon House
National Register Listing Date:11/23/1971 12:00:00 AM
State Register Listing Date:1/1/1989 12:00:00 AM
National Register Multiple Property Name:
Additional Information:A 'site file' exists for this property. It contains additional information such as correspondence, newspaper clippings, or historical information. It is a public record and may be viewed in person at the Wisconsin Historical Society, Division of Historic Preservation. HABS WI-135.

This house was built by John Richards in 1854. He lived there until 1874. Richards came to Watertown in 1837 after being admitted to the bar in Massachusetts. After he arrived in the county, he became the first District Attorney. he was elected a Justice of the Peace, a Supervisor, and served as Mayor between 1870-1871. Richards helped develop the rough and ready dam and invested in a grist mill, sawmill, and linseed oil mill. Richards is probably best known for the erection of this house, one of the finest Octagon houses in the state.

This house is significant for local history under National Register criterion B because it is associated with John Richards, a pioneer attorney in Watertown.

John Richards was one of the earliest settlers in the community. He invested in some pioneer businesses which helped establish an industrial base in the community, and he was important as the county's first district attorney. Richards also was significant because of his association with the unique house he built, the Octagon. Not only did Richards leave his mark on the early legal establishment of the community, but on the physical environment as well. because there are no known extant business locations of Richards' in Watertown, this house is the only location of his work in the community and has added significance because of it.

Planned and built by John Richards in the early 1850s, this three story buff brick octagonal building is topped by a cupola and four chimneys. Constructed of seventeen-inch thick foundation, thirteen-inch walls and eight-inch partisans, this house is further characterized by Italianate influenced bracketed overhanging eaves on the house and on the cupola, hand-cut stone lintels and sills, exterior shutters, long multipaned windows, two-story veranda that encircles the house (verandas that had been removed many years ago were recently restored) and a sidelighted decor with transom window. The porch was reconstructed in 1981-82.

Notable features of the interiod of the octagon house are the central centilievered spiral staircase, a system of running water utilizing rain water caught on the roof, and a plan for heating and ventilatation. the house contained only one fireplace and a hot air furnace in the basement. It was 32 rooms.

Deeded to the Watertown Historical Society by the RIchards heirs in 1938, the Octagon house and grounds (the Richards property originally had 104 acres) were placed in the National Register in 1971.

The John Richards Octagon House is significant under Criterion C as an outstanding example of the Octagon style. Based on Orson Fowler's philosophy and design popularized in the mid-19th century, the 1850s Richard's house is one of the best examples of the twenty octagon houses that were built in Wisconsin.

Deeded to the Watertown Historical Society by the Richards family in 1938, this Octagon house presently is preserved as a museum and focal point of the community.

Covenant/Easement: From 9/24/1976 to 9/24/1996. A 'covenant file' exists for this property. It may contain additional information such as photos, drawings and correspondence. It is a public record and may be viewed in person at the Wisconsin Historical Society, State Historic Preservation Office.
Bibliographic References:(A) The Octagon House and the Cobblestone Building in Wisconsin, p. 4, UWEX, 1978. (B) Janesville Gazette 4/27/1994. (C) Watertown Daily Times 3/9/1996. (D) Waterloo Courier 9/19/1996. (E) National Register Nomination, Octagon House, Files, Preservation Division, State Historical Society of Wisconsin. (F) Evelyn Ruddick Rose, Our Heritage of Homes (Watertown Historical Society, 1980), p. 84-85. (G) C.W. Butterfield, The History of Jefferson County, Wisconsin, Chicago: Western Historical Co., 1879, p. 623. (H) Perrin, 1960, p. 14. (I) Perrin, 1962, p. 64. (J) Perrin, 1967, p. 41, with illus. (K) Kohler, p. 26. Jefferson County Union 12/24/1969, p. 3. The Octagon House in Watertown, WI, published by the Watertown Historical Society, second edition 1942. Wisconsin State Journal 7/13/1973. Fort Atkinson Jefferson County Union, 4/30/1973, p. 8. Wisconsin State Journal 1/16/1949. Wisconsin State Journal 1/21/1949. Daily Jefferson County Union 1/21/1949. Janesville Daily Gazette 6/20/1952. Daily Jefferson County Union 6/19/1952. Milwaukee Journal 6/27/1954. Christian Science Monitor 10/11/1960. Wisconsin State Journal 9/12/1962. Milwaukee Journal 6/2/1963. Wisconsin State Journal 8/24/1952. The Capital Times 4/15/1953. Jefferson County Union 12/21/1960, p. 6. Daily Jefferson County Union 5/14/1953. Milwaukee Journal 9/1/1963. Wisconsin State Journal 5/2/1964. Milwaukee Journal 8/31/1965. Wisconsin State Journal 8/31/1965, section 2. Wisconsin State Journal 7/4/1965. Wisconsin State Journal 7/25/1966. Milwaukee Journal 7/7/1967. Wisconsin State Journal 7/15/1967. Milwaukee Journal 6/22/1969. Milwaukee Journal 9/22/1968, Women's Section. Wisconsin State Journal 3/17/1957. Jefferson County Union 12/14/1960. Fort Atkinson Jefferson County Union 8/9/1973, p. 2. Milwaukee Journal Historical Landmarks of Wisconsin, 1962, pp. 7-8. Wisconsin State Journal 4/29/2002.
Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory, Division of Historic Preservation, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin

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