The Octagon House
1799 New York Ave NW
Washington, District of Columbia 20006
Construction on the Octagon House, which sits several blocks from the National Mall, started in 1798. Designed by William Thornton, the first architect of the U.S. Capitol, it became a fill-in White House during the War of 1812. When the British burned the executive mansion in 1814, James and Dolly Madison moved in for nearly a year. Dolly continued hosting her entertaining affairs here, while James was attending to affairs of state. In fact, the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812, was signed in The Octagon House in February 1815. The chair and table used by Madison when the document was signed are the most important historical items in the house.
The three-story Octagon House is owned by the American Institute of Architects Foundation. And perhaps only an architect can explain why the Octagon House is so named, despite having only six sides. Here’s the answer–an architectural feature called an Octagon Room was the vogue in upper-class houses of the era. Although these central rooms were circular in shape, their foundations were designed with eight sides. It is thought that, due to the prominence of the Octagon Room’s location in the house (it was placed at the entry), the Octagon name stuck.