The Octagon

  • Also Known As: Colonel John Tayloe House

  • Travel Genus: Sight
  • Sight Category: Building

The Octagon House, built between 1798 and 1800, was designed by Dr William Thornton, the architect of the US Capitol, and completed by 1800. Colonel John Tayloe, for whom the house was built, owned Mt Airy plantation, located approximately 100 miles south of Washington in Richmond County, Virginia. Tayloe was reputed to be the richest Virginian plantation owner of his time, and built the house in Washington at the suggestion of George Washington. In 1814, Colonel Tayloe offered the use of his home to President and Mrs Madison for a temporary Executive Mansion after the burning of the White House by the British. Madison, who used the circular room above the entrance as a study, signed the Treaty of Ghent there, which ended the War of 1812.

This three-story brick house, adapted to an irregular-shaped lot, displays a dramatic break with the traditional, late Georgian and early Federal house planning that preceded it. The Octagon achieves a zenith in Federal architecture in the United States, through its brilliant plan which combines a circle, two rectangles, and a triangle, and through the elegance and restraint of the interior and exterior decoration. The Coade stone, stoves, other decorative elements, and furniture were imported from England. The construction materials, such as bricks, timber, iron, and Acquia creek sandstone were all manufactured locally.

The Octagon House became the home of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) on January 1, 1899, and complete ownership of the property was acquired in the year 1902. The AIA still owns the building, but the institute is headquartered in a larger building located directly behind it. The house has undergone extensive renovation since 1996, culminating in efforts to restore it to its original period appearance. - NPS

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The Octagon


Y/M/D Person Association Description Composition Food Event
Y/M/D Person Association Description Composition Food Event
1799/00/00 Dr William Thornton Architect Dr William Thornton designs The Octagon
1799/00/00 John Tayloe III Home Construction begins on a town residence for John and Anne Tayloe.
1802/00/00 Anne Ogle Tayloe Home Completed in 1802, Colonel John and Anne Tayloe make a home in The Octagon.
1803/01/31 Edward Thornton Tayloe Born Edward Thornton Tayloe is born at the Octogon House in Washington, DC.
1814/09/00 Dolley Madison Home The Octagon serves as the Executive Mansion for James and Dolley Madison September 1814 - October 1815
1814/09/00 James Madison Home The Octagon serves as the Executive Mansion for James and Dolley Madison September 1814 - October 1815
1815/02/17 James Madison US President Ratified and confirmed, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, President James Madison signs the Treaty of Ghent ratification papers. Treaty of Gent

Data »

Particulars for The Octagon:
Area of Significance Architecture
Criteria Architecture-Engineering
Sight Category Building
Criteria Historic Event
Area of Significance Military
Level of Significance National
Architectural Style Octagon Mode
Criteria Person
Area of Significance Politics-government
Owner Private
Historic Use Single dwelling

US National Registry of Historic Places Data »

Accurate at time of registration:

Registry Name:
Registry Address:
Registry Number: 66000863
Resource Type:
Owner: Private
Architect: Thornton,Dr. William
Architectural Style: Octagon mode
Other Certification: Designated National Landmark
Nominator Name: National Historic Landmark
Level of Significance: National
Area of Significance: Military, Politics-government, Architecture
Applicable Criteria: Event, Architecture-Engineering, Person
Period of Significance: 1800-1824, 1750-1799
Significant Year: 1799, 1800, 1814
Associated People: Madison,James
Historic Function: Domestic
Historic Sub-Function: Single dwelling
Current Function: Recreation and Culture
Current Sub-Function: Museum

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