The Octagon House Foundation is steadily moving forward with plans and fundraising efforts to restore one of Southwest Virginia’s most famous landmarks. Current efforts include temporary windows for the home’s second floor to replace the short-lived plastic, giving more substantial weatherization.
For the past several weekends, board members and volunteers from the surrounding region have been devoting their Saturdays to cleaning and removing years of debris and overgrowth from the area surrounding the home. Volunteers from the Abingdon and Bristol area learned of the clean up efforts through the foundation’s Facebook posts and have returned each time working long hours to help in this effort. If you would like to follow the progression or volunteer to help, you can follow the Octagon House Foundation on Facebook. Derek Orr, foundation president states there will be plenty of volunteer opportunities as the project progresses. Once physical restoration of the building commences, many architectural items will be removed and need to be cataloged for storage and replacement after the super-structure is strengthened and made safe for occupancy.
There are many areas with the home that are structurally unsafe due to the neglect and vandalism the building suffered over the past seventy years. The plan is to restore and tuck point mortar in the brick walls, but also includes the removal of the southeast section of the building, which collapsed and was replaced by concrete block many years ago. Roger McNeil, of Mountain Masonry, estimates this process will take at least six months to complete. Original brick from the site may be repurposed to give the new wall the appearance of being original. However, given the large dimensions of handmade brick, special order bricks may have to be purchased for that particular phase of the masonry restoration.
However, the project depends on the procurement of grant funds, fundraising efforts, and volunteers. Volunteers from many different areas have offered their services to the foundation. Julie Brinson, currently residing in South Africa, has volunteered her services as Legacy Grant writer for the foundation. A graduate in historic preservation from Georgia State University, Julie contacted the organization after reading about their efforts to restore this unique architectural landmark on Preservation Virginia’s ten most endangered sites. The home was placed on this list in 2015 to bring attention to the restoration efforts underway, giving priority to those architectural and cultural sites which showcase Virginia’s unique history and heritage.
Julie has made several potential grant matches to the restoration need and is gathering the necessary information required to write and submit applications. She has informed the Foundation that she is in hopes of acquiring grant funding this year and the odds are favorable due to the effort already put forth by the foundation, volunteer efforts, local business partnerships, economic, and educational growth.
The home is also being featured in an upcoming book by Robin Spencer Lattimore, “Southern Splendor: Saving Architectural Treasures of the Old South”. Robin is a renowned, award winning author, who has written many books detailing antebellum homes and life. His previous works include “Rural Splendor, Plantation Houses of the Carolinas and Southern Plantations, The South’s grandest homes”. His new book featuring the Octagon House is due for release this coming Christmas. The home’s inclusion is due to the restoration efforts to save the historic structure.
Plans for the home, once restoration is complete, are to include tours detailing the rare architectural details of the building itself and its storied past through the turbulent times of the Civil War in Southwest Virginia. All levels of society associated with the plantation will be researched and their story told so that we all may know more and understand the happiness, heartbreak, successes and failures of that time period.
Revolving exhibits and living history demonstrations for the public and school tours are planned which will showcase day to day activity, special occasions, farming, and industry of the time period. Plans are also being discussed to develop on-site greenhouses that will grow and sell heirloom vegetables. This will not only help in the renovation but provide ongoing financial support to maintain the property. Special events such as wine tasting, food and fair exhibitions are also part of the planned use for the home. These events would be coordinated with businesses, vendors, and farmers from the local area to showcase the variety and uniqueness of what Smyth County and Southwest Virginia has to offer.
The hope is to make the house a cultural, educational, and tourist destination to be enjoyed and utilized by the surrounding communities and the many people who make Southwest Virginia a travel destination.
Octagon House Foundation, Inc. P O Box 1701 Marion VA 24354