This house is built some distance from the east limits of the city of Watertown, Wisconsin. The premises front on one of the main travelled arteries leading out of that city. The house dates from the year 1853 and was erected for one named John Richards, a lawyer and mill owner. From what has been learned, he made his own plans for the house. He was determinded to erect the largest house in the state of Wisconsin. How near he came to fulfilling this ambition is a question, but nevertheless he did succeed in erecting a house of unusual size and distinction. The four floors contain thirty two rooms all told, which is quite a number when one considers that buy one family was to occupy the house, except the upper story which was planned and built to house the millhands.
Each of the four floors, including the basement, contain the same number of rooms, eight. And fourteen of these rooms are used for sleeping purposes. Every room in the entire house is oddly shaped in that they all have more than four walls.
THe house was built over a period of three years. All material used in its construction was hauled by horse and wagon from the city of Milwaukee some forty miles away. It is said that the house originally cost $50,000 to build, a very large sum in the 1850s.
The house is built like a fort, strong and massive. Every room in the house, as mentioned before, is oddly shaped. But the unusual feature about the planning of the house is the inaccessibility of some of the rooms. A study of the plans reveals the astounding fact that to gain access to one of the bedrooms it is necessary to pass through two bedrooms and a connecting hall to get to the desired room.
There is only one bathroom, which was a late addition to the house. The fact also should be noted that each floor contains a water hydrant. From these the water was no doubt drawn and then carried to the various rooms in containers.
The basement at one time contained an immense oven. It also once held an elongated furnace which was capable of holding eleven foot long logs.
The Richards family and their descendants resided in the home until 1937, when grandson William Thomas passed away. At that time the remaining family members were faced with what to do with the family home, which had become one of Watertown's' most recognizable landmarks.
The Richards family offered to sell it to the city for $ 1, but opposition from the city council and several citizens prevented that from happening. The fledgling Watertown Historical Society then came forward and arranged to purchase the home from the Richards family on condition that it always be used as a public museum.
Since 1938 the Octagon House has been open to the public.