(Laurens). Zelotes Lee Holmes, a Presbyterian clergyman who taught at the Laurens Female College, began constructing an octagonal classroom building and residence in 1858. Granite slabs five feet long, twenty-one inches wide, and eighteen inches deep supported walls of stone and concretelike mortar that ranged from twelve to eighteen inches thick. It was one of the first concrete buildings constructed in the South. The exterior is stucco scored to resemble stone. Holmes supervised its construction by his slaves and with the help of his children. It was completed by the end of 1859.
The Octagon House is centered around a two-story atrium, thirty-five feet high, with a skylight and ventilation ports that drew hot air out of the building. Sleeping rooms on either side of the atrium have separate stairs, which allowed male and female boarding students to communicate with each other from balconies but prevented their physical contact. Sixteen chimneys animate the complex roof structure of the main octagonal building, its four projecting corner rooms, and four porches.
The plan resembles an example in Samuel Sloan’s The Model Architect, published in 1852. Similar buildings were publicized nationally by Orson Squire Fowler, who published A Home for All, or the Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building in 1854.
Holmes’s descendants occupied the house until it was sold in 1919 for $8,000. Electricity and indoor bathrooms were added about 1900, and in the 1940s the building was remodeled into four apartments. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, the house was rehabilitated as an Arts Center about 1976 but again fell into disrepair by the early 1990s. About 1997 the structure was refurbished by DeWayne Anderson of Winston-Salem for use as a multifamily residential complex. The Octagon House is located at 619 East Main Street in Laurens.
Lane, Mills. Architecture of the Old South: South Carolina. Savannah, Ga.: Beehive, 1997.