ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


Octagon House Model








This scale model of the Richards’ Octagon House was created in 1936 by a team of local craftsmen under the sponsorship of the Works Progress Administration. Originally it was used as a float in the 1936 Watertown Centennial parade, and then put on temporary display at Riverside Park. In 1939, it was moved to the museum grounds where it was used to illustrate how the original house looked when it had porches (the original porches on the museum having been removed for safety reasons in 1924). A popular feature of the museum grounds, the model underwent extensive reconstruction in 2012 by local craftsman Tom Gates.




01 08 2012


Watertown – The Watertown Historical Society is launching a campaign to have the miniature wooden model of the Octagon House repaired and restored.  After having been exposed to over 70 years of Wisconsin weather, the model is sorely showing its age and the Board of Directors of the Historical Society decided now was the time to try to save the little house.


There are conflicting stories as to how the mini Octagon House came into being.  The evidence points to its having been created in 1936 as a W.P.A. project. It was later used as a parade float in the 1936 Watertown Centennial parade before being moved to its present location next to the museum.  At one time the model served as a reminder of how the Octagon House appeared when it had its original porches.  The famed eight-sided landmark had had its original porches removed due to age and neglect in about 1924.  Since the porches were restored in 1982, the little house has lost some of its impact, but it is still a beloved object.  Many people and children have had their picture taken alongside the wooden Octagon House.  The model was built, according to photographic evidence, by local craftsman Henry Martin, with assistance from Paul Mohr and William J. Creapo.  There is a photograph in the collections of the Watertown Historical Society which shows Mr. Martin receiving a check at the completion of his model which was, at that time, located in Riverside Park.


Over the years the model has been painted from time to time, its verandas have been damaged by children climbing on it and some of the glass windows, trim and moldings have been damaged.  In the early fall of 2011 Thomas Gates, groundskeeper at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church, approached the Historical Society with a proposal to restore this outstanding piece of Wisconsin folk-art. After some discussion the Society decided to go ahead with the project.


The restoration is proving to be much more extensive than initially thought and as a result, the cost of the job has risen dramatically.  Therefore the Watertown Historical Society is appealing to the public to help pay for the job.  The goal is to have the model of the Octagon House completely overhauled and placed back on its pedestal by the opening of the museum in May.  In order to achieve this goal the Historical Society is asking anyone who wants to help support the project to send whatever they can to the “Save the Mini Octagon House Fund.”  Checks can be made out and sent to the Watertown Historical Society, 919 Charles Street, Watertown, WI 53094.  All donations are tax deductible.  Send in your donation today and help save an important and memorable piece of Watertown’s history.










This year the miniature Octagon House may be said to rival its parent structure in the field of favorable criticism and attention.


In sunshine or rain it stands in all its new splendor seeking as it were the protective wing of the nigh century-old building at its side, the Octagon House itself, where it is on display.


Dr. L. H. Nowack. retired Watertown physician, has shown a decided aptitude in the restoration of the replica which was about ready to collapse due to its general debility and wasting away of its parts.


Dr. Nowack, with the skill of a veteran cabinet-maker, restored every detail of the miniature Octagon House, even to the openings for the lentils at the front door.  It required unlimited patience and expertness, which many employed regularly in the wood-makers art had refused to attempt.


The verandas with their intricate railings and the top balustrade between the four chimneys are now complete.  The front and side porch steps with the bay-window and the detailed French windows and paneled doors are very realistic.  Miniature blinds have been attached with tiny screws and the wood used throughout gives the entire structure a tone of permanence.


It has been placed on a cement foundation which makes it appear as if it is aspiring to the stature at the Octagon House itself.


Dr. L. H. Nowack has several hobbies which include floral culture and poultry raising, but he seems to have excelled in wood craft.  He is also a member of the Watertown Board of Education.   WDT




         Clarence “Bumps” Schumann, Pete Colletti, Gerald Schubert, Phil Paulsen





2011-13                SLIDE SHOW:  Restoration work done by Tom Gates

  Image Portfolio 


WDTimes article on restoration, 11 03 2012


                Articles in our 2012 newsletters (large-size files)




A presentation on the restoration of the miniature octagon house will highlight the Watertown Historical Society’s first public history meeting of the 2013 season on Monday, April 22.  Watertown craftsman Thomas Gates, who spent more than a year restoring the miniature house, will share before and after photos from the project and discuss the detailed restoration. The miniature house was built in 1936 as part of the Works Progress Administration as a model to show what the Octagon House Museum would look like with its porches intact – the original porches were removed in 1924 and not replaced until 1982. Although the little house has been repainted and repaired many times throughout the years, the ravages of time, weather and children climbing upon it led to the need for a total restoration.  The miniature house was removed from the museum grounds in 2011 to undergo its transformation.


    Video clip        


      The miniature Octagon House has been returned to the museum grounds after undergoing an extensive yearlong restoration.   WDT 05 01 13


05 04       REDEDICATION CEREMONY of Miniature Octagon

      YouTube video clip of ceremony




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History of Watertown, Wisconsin