LOREN ANDRUS OCTAGON HOUSE HISTORY

Loren Andrus: The Individualist

Loren Andrus was born on June 25, 1816, in Genesee County, New York. In 1828, Loren traveled with his father to find a new home in the Territory of Michigan, settling in Washington Township. 

 
At the age of 21, Loren Andrus was employed as an assistant engineer during the survey of the Clinton and Kalamazoo Canal that was to link Michigan's Great Lakes. In 1841, Loren married Lucina Davis, who was also born in Genesee County, New York. Both the Andrus and Davis families are recognized as the earliest pioneers of Macomb County, Michigan. He and Lucina became parents to eight children.

Loren received a land patent in the 1840's for a large parcel (over 300 acres) of property located near his father's residence and he farmed this new land very successfully. A few years later, a friendly rivalry between the Miller, Lamb, Cannon, and Andrus (Loren) families climaxed
in a home-for-show contest to see who could
build the most unusual house. With the help of prominent architect and brother-in-law David Stewart, and using Orson Fowler's book as a guide, Loren began building his Octagon house in 1858. Although Loren was nearly bankrupt by the time his eight-sided wonder was completed in 1860, his house was the hands-down winner of the contest. Most of the material for construction of the home was acquired from the surrounding farmland. The wondrous result of this labor still stands in all it's glory on Van Dyke, just north of 26 Mile Road. A brick engraved with the signature of a proud Loren Andrus is still embedded in the exterior wall to the right of the front door. Another brick is signed by the building's architect on the outer face by one of the second story windows.

The Octagon House is Italianate in style, surrounded on six sides by a Corinthian-columned porch. A cedar shake shingled roof, with elegant scrolled brackets, supports the octagonal cupola. The house has eight sides with eight-foot windows letting daylight fill the interior. The interior is centered around a dramatic, 55-step cantilevered spiral staircase which winds from the first floor to the third story cupola. Many of the ceilings are embellished with superbly carved detail. The woodwork is representative of the finest craftsmanship of the period ... a period in history that saw the continued worldwide love affair with Queen Victoria of England, the upsurge of Victorian styles and customs and Americans divided by the Civil War.

 

Settling In

After the Civil War years when the country began to heal itself, the Octagon House became the focal point of the community. Washington Township residents, both young and old, would gather at the homestead to dance, play games, pull taffy, and sing songs around the piano. Loren actively pursued his interest in historic preservation. He was a founding member of the Macomb County Historical Society and he attended the Society's first meeting, held in Washington Community Church, which Loren helped to build in 1880 with wood from his land.


 
All of the social activities came to an end when Loren's wife Lucina, died in 1890. Four years later, Loren sold his beloved octagonal dream for $11,000. On April 12, 1901, Loren Andrus passed away in Detroit at the home of his daughter, Alice. (Loren and Lucina Andrus are buried in the Washington South Cemetery at the corner of 26 Mile Road and Mound.)

The Changing of the Guard

Between 1894 and 1945, the Octagon House changed hands at least nine times. Paul Weyer, a renowned chef, introduced running water and 

electricity into the house. He replaced the original frame kitchen, located at the back of the house, with a much larger rectangular addition in 1938 to make room for the kitchen of his short-lived restaurant, Paul Weyer's Farm and Inn. Sadly, Chef Weyer passed away soon after opening his restaurant and the house was sold once again. 

From 1945 through the late 1962, through a foundation grant, the site was transformed into the Albert H. Schmidt Foundation Farm and became a living classroom for Wayne (State) University's agricultural training program. Under the university's guidance, the house was used as a dormitory, the land farmed and the farm's dairy herd became the top milk producer in Michigan. However, in 1964, a few years after dropping its agriculture program, Wayne State sold the property to a private investment company, which rented the grounds out as a working farm.

Historic Home Condemned

In 1971, the Octagon House was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places and simultaneously recognized as a State of Michigan Historic Site in 1972. Less than a year later, the house was vacated and vandalized. By 1974, the home was condemned. Just days before the wrecking ball was scheduled to strike, William and Phyllis Hamilton entered into a land contract with the investment company and began to painstakingly restore the Octagon House.

The Hamiltons operated the historical site as a living museum called Apple Barrel Farm. For nearly ten years, thousands of delighted school children and families toured the house and grounds. However, due to financial difficulties, the homestead abruptly reverted back to the investment company in 1984. The future again looked bleak for the historic home.

Friends to the Rescue

In an effort to preserve the Octagon House, a group of concerned Macomb County residents formed a non-profit organization in 1984 called Save the Octagon House, Inc. In January 1987, the group purchased the octagonal home for $185,000 raised from state grants and generous donations by local citizens, service organizations, businesses, and school children. 

In 1989, Save the Octagon House, Inc., changed its name to Friends of the Octagon House, Inc., launching a membership and fundraising drive for interior restoration and furnishing the home. A Board of Directors governs the organization. Through the support of the community, the board is able to continue its restoration and preservation efforts. 

Through many generous donors and several grants, restoration was completed in many areas throughout the house, outbuildings and grounds. Restoration of the spiral staircase, the 1st floor windows and plaster restoration on walls throughout the house are now complete. The spiral staircase at the center of the Octagon House allows visitors to walk to the third-floor cupola and view the land. 

In June of 2000, graduates of the Michigan State University Extension Macomb Master Gardener program took on the task of restoring the four acres surrounding the Loren Andrus Octagon House to their original Victorian splendor and maintaining the grounds in a manner and style that befits the house.

Loren Andrus first used his property for the advancement of agricultural interests, so it has become very important to include the restoration and preservation of the two historic barns located on site. A new roof for the larger of the two barns was completed in June 2006. However, we still have a great deal to accomplish. Once the buildings are restored, they will once again become a vital part of our community and will be used as social gathering places for a variety of events. Please visit our "Save the Barns" page for more information. Save The Barns

We invite you walk back in time with a visit to this truly amazing historic treasure.
 

 



 

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