SHIRLEY — In 1879, Jane Ross Reeves saw architectural plans for the octagonally-shaped home in a magazine. The ad promised that octagonal houses were healthier to live in due to better air flow, cheaper to heat and had plenty of room for her 19 children. She was sold.
It’s been 138 years since Reeves called the Octagon House her home, and it’s still standing, thanks to a handful of men who will be honored at the 20th anniversary of the Jane Ross Reeves Octagon House in Shirley.
On Sunday at 2 p.m., a dedication ceremony will be conducted at the Octagon House, 400 S. Railroad St., to acknowledge the seven men who were instrumental in relocating the house to Shirley and preserving a piece of architecture important to Indiana history.
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The event will recognize the descendants of Jane Ross Reeves and members of the Jane Ross Reeves Octagon House Foundation, said Virginia Harrell, spokesperson for the foundation. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will follow the speeches and introductions.
“People are free to go through the house and see what has happened in the 20 years since it moved to Shirley,” Harrell said.
Part of the tour will include a collection of bricks which, when finished will be in the shape of an octagon. Seven of the bricks are inscribed with the names of each of the men who helped move the house from Willow Branch to Shirley: Darrell Deck, Byron Wisehart, Donald Willis, Robert Wisehart, who have passed on, and Don Hammer, Lamoine Harrell, Dennis Westrich, who are still living.
“The eighth brick makes it an octagon with the date the house was moved,” Harrell said.
According to Harrell, a 23-year volunteer with the Jane Ross Reeves Octagon House Foundation, the house is lucky to still be standing. It was originally located in a farm field in Willow Branch, Harrell said. It had been abandoned, and the farmer was going to have it burned down.
“It was a shell,” Harrell said. “Cattle had lived in it; hogs had lived in it. It was full of coon stuff, hog stuff and cattle manure.”
Community member Darrell Deck took the lead in forming the Jane Ross Reeves Octagon House Foundation and talked the other six men into helping to clean it out, a process which took three years.
The plan was to move it the nine miles from Willow Branch to Shirley.
“The citizens of Shirley didn’t want this big mammoth-looking house in Shirley,” Harrell said.
But the foundation purchased several acres of land in Shirley and on May 17, 1997, the house was moved. As luck would have it, the great-great-grandson of Jane Ross Reeves — Ron Ross — made his living moving houses, and he helped to get his ancestral home to its new location at 400 S. Railroad St. in Shirley.
Lamoine Harrell, husband to Virginia, also worked on the move, offering the use of his backhoe.
“He moved trees. He took down all the signs and mailboxes along 234 to get the house moved,” Virginia Harrell said.
An octagon-shaped basement had to be built, and the house was placed on top of that, Harrell said.
Today, 20 years later, the Octagon House stands as a monument to Indiana history. It is one of only five remaining octagon-shaped houses left standing in Indiana.
Harrell is proud of the fact that the house is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It is a jewel,” Harrell said. “The other organizations here in town — they meet on our grounds.”
But Sunday’s dedication isn’t the only thing worth celebrating at the Octagon House. On Wednesday, Harrell said, she received word from the White Family Foundation — an Indiana-based philanthropic organization — that the Octagon House had been awarded the requested funding to install a community kitchen in the building.
The building has been without a kitchen since it was moved from its original location in Willow Branch to its current location in Shirley, Harrell explained. Events and fundraisers for the home had to be planned elsewhere, or everything — water and all the food — had to be carried in by the organizers.
“The women won’t have to use their slow cookers and carry water anymore,” Harrell said.
Harrell looks forward to the dedication. Pausing on the wrap-around porch during a tour of the home, she called attention to the rippling flags hung from the porch rails.
“There’s always a breeze,” she said. “I don’t care what time of day it is, and I love it.”
“The public is invited,” Harrell said. “We’ll have cookies and punch and they can visit and sit on the porch as long as they want to.”
Dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting at the Jane Ross Reeves Octagon House
400 S. Railroad St., Shirley
2 to 4 p.m. Sunday
Admission is free and open to the public
To help support the restoration and upkeep of the Jane Ross Reeves Octagon House, call 765-738-6736