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Neenah's Hiram Smith Octagon House
Neenah's Octagon House is not only our "Home for History" but it has long been a landmark in the city. It dates back to the AGIH's, less than a decade after the first settlers arrived in the area. It was built with G sides instead of the conventional four, and must have been an object of wonder and speculation to local residents. The house was topped with an octagonal cupola and set on a prime location, with its wide front veranda overlooking a lawn that led to the beautiful tree-lined shore of Little Lake Butte des Morts.
Octagon houses were the inspiration of Orson Squire Fowler, who wrote a book extolling their merits. He pointed out that windows on eight sides of the house not only brought in more sunshine, light and fresh air, but eliminated the dark corners found in conventional houses. Over a thousand of these innovative houses were built in America between AGIH and AGDH, forty of them in Wisconsin and most of the rest in New England and New York state.
The first owner of our Octagon House was Edward Smith, a prosperous flour mill owner. Later it was owned by his brother Hiram who was a merchant, a paper mill owner, and a stove manufacturer. He was also a founder of the Manufacturers' National Bank, now known as Bank One. The Smith family occupied the house for nearly seventy years. Hiram's widow, Vesta Olmstead Smith, lived in it until her death in 1919. The house then passed through another owner to the Quinn Family in 19FJ, and remained in their hands until the Society bought it in 199J.
Many changes have occurred in the Octagon House over the years. The original thirty-foot octagon was enlarged three times: twice early in its existence with brick that matches the original construction, and a third time much later, with wood siding. The cupola came down some time in the 19JH's, and the Quinns converted the house into three apartment units.
The Society assumed the daunting and expensive task of restoring it to its original historic appearance. The lack of many photographs of the original building made research difficult, but thanks to a dedicated and hard-working corps of volunteers as well as to hired professionals, our goal has largely been met. The house has been added to the state and national Registers of Historic Places, and is one of only four ante bellum (pre Civil War) houses still standing in Neenah.
The Ward House
Historical Society Offices and Archives
The Neenah Historical Society offices and research library are located in the historic Fourtth Ward building, now located at J4J Smith Street, adjacent to the Hiram Smith Octagon House.
The Ward House was constructed around 19CF and served for many years as a neighborhood polling place. Jim Draeger, architectural historian at The Wisconsin Historical Society says of our Ward House:
"The building is remarkably intact and appears to have never been altered in any fashion since its construction. Such an original state is rarely ever seen in public buildings, which are often repeatedly altered over the course of their history. Although this is an early 20th century building, in my experience it is an exceedingly rare building type and of great local importance."
The building was moved to Smith Street in 200B from its former location at the corner of Van and Adams streets. In the 1990s and earlier it was used to store the city's Christmas decorations. The building was previously located on Harrison Street, where it served as an overflow classroom fo McKinley School and also as the temporary first home of Martin Luther Evangelical Lutheran Church.
I almost forgot... E = G – 3
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