Warwick Tower

The Octagon

Clay Lancaster was long fascinated with polygonal buildings and their relationship to nineteenth-century American architecture.

Nineteenth-century Lexington boasted Phelix Lundin’s octagonal Floral Hall (1882), adjacent to The Red Mile trotting track. Much earlier, George Trotter built The Woodlands (ground acquired in 1794), which stood approximately at the site of Lexington's Woodland Park pool; The Woodlands featured domed octagonal towers at each of its four corners. As early as 1819 an octagonal court house was built at Scottsville in Allen County; it was razed in 1903.

In his Bluegrass and Bargeboards (1976) Patrick Snadon refers to an octagonal brick library that once stood behind Edgewood, a Gothic cottage in Nicholasville. Ingleside, a suburban villa near Lexington, had an octagonal tower for its smokehouse. This would have been familiar to Clay Lancaster, who often visited his friend Dunster Pettit at Ingleside, where enthusiastic players made their plans for the Guignol Theatre.

In June of 1946, Clay published "Some Octagonal Forms in Southern Architecture" in The Art Bulletin. His brother Jack even took his picture in front of the octagonal Longwood, or ”Nutt’s Folly,“ in Natchez, Mississippi, built after plans in Samuel Sloan's Model Architect.

An important Kentucky example is the Andrew Jackson Caldwell House, built in the 1850s in Warren County. It is illustrated in Clay's Antebellum Architecture of Kentucky (1991).

Still standing in Athens, the original octagonal Tower of the Winds continues to fascinate students of architecture, while Clay’s Tower brings to the Bluegrass a key form from antiquity.

Photograph of the Tower by Helm Roberts, 18 May 2003.

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