According to family accounts, Dr. William Sparrow “was an eccentric … and certainly not an ordinary 19th century man,” so it is fitting that he would build a house sometimes called “the inkwell.” Born in Craven County in 1825, Sparrow moved to Hyde when he married Elizabeth Jennette. Legend says he built the house to replace one lost in a hurricane. He wanted “no corners for the wind to howl around.” Built in 1857, “the round house” is one of only two such houses in North Carolina built in the 19th century. The eight-sided dwelling has no posts except windows and doors.
The house’s unusual shape likely reflected an 1850s fad detailed in the book The Octagon House — A Home for All. The author, phrenologist Orson Fowler, studied the correlation between the shape of the skull and a person’s mental capacity. Presumably, he applied the same connection between a house’s shape and its structural strength.
The Octagon house has six rooms, along with entry and upstairs hallways. A central chimney serves four fireplaces. During renovation, removing 1890s cypress shingles revealed markings for false windows on the sides that had none. This is indicative of the Fowler design and the dimensions of the home matched his exactly.
By 1862, William Sparrow’s children were orphans, but they kept the house in the family until 1869, when John Northan bought part of the interest in the house and land for $600. By 1879, he owned all the house and land. The house was last owned by Charles Payne until 1958, but sat vacant until a group of concerned citizens came together in 1976 to restore the house. The house’s original details— a plastered interior and stucco exterior— are in place and original floors were kept intact where possible. The Octagon House Restoration Inc. and Partnership for the Sounds work together to keep the house maintained and open to the public.
It is open from Saturdays 10:00am until 3:00pm