Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vanished Rochester: Wood Dawn

Area residents are probably familiar with the Loren Andrus Octagon House in nearby Washington Township, but may not be aware that the Rochester area once had its very own octagon house, named Wood Dawn. The house disappeared from our local landscape decades before I was born, but fortunately one of the nineteenth-century pamphlets promoting Rochester carried this picture of it, so we have some idea what it looked like.

Wood Dawn stood on a farm just west of the village of Rochester, in the area that we know today as Great Oaks. According to a 1909 memoir by Samuel Harris that was published in the Rochester Era, the octagon house was built by Lyman Wilcox, who owned the property for a large part of the nineteenth century, and stood on the property during the tenure of subsequent owners including Rufus Schermerhorn and dairy farm operator John C. Day. Octagon architecture had become something of a minor sensation in the United States after an amateur architect named Orson Squire Fowler published a book in 1848 touting the benefits of the octagon house. Fowler claimed, among other things, that octagon homes were cheaper to build and heat, afforded more natural light, and provided healthier ventilation.

Rochester's octagon house was described in the Rochester Clarion in the spring of 1939, as it was being razed after Howard McGregor bought the property on which it stood for his Great Oaks Stock Farm. The Clarion said, in part:
One of the many improvements being made on the old J.C. Day farm, west of town, is the razing of the once beautiful stone mansion occupied by its former owner in days gone by.
The structure, octagon shaped, is over 100 years old, three stories high and had 42 rooms. There was a beautiful spiral stairway in the very center of the house leading from the basement direct to the glass enclosed turret three floors above, with two landings between each floor. Every piece of lumber used in the construction of the house was oak.
Wood Dawn was probably not quite 100 years old when it was torn down in 1939, despite the Clarion's claim, but it was definitely an interesting piece of Rochester's early history, now consigned to the pages of vanished Rochester.


  1. Wow Thank you so much for this entry on your Octagon house. Im doing a book on Octagon houses and knew nothing about this one.


  2. Nice post. I would be interested to know the current address of where the Wood Dawn used to stand. Is that information available?

  3. Im not sure about the exact address of the house. It stood near the present site of Great Oaks Country Club which I believe is at 777 Great Oaks Boulevard.

    My book is finished and has the info on 900 octagon houses.


  4. My 2nd great grandmother, Emilie Girardin married Rufus Shermerhorn in 1889. I just found this and the funny thing is that my mother always said her grandparents lived in the octagon house but we thought it was the one in Macomb Twp and we thought it was a different set of grandparents. I'm not wondering if it was really Emilie and Rufus that the story was about. I can't wait to let my mom know. I live right across the street from Great Lakes. I'm so happy to have found this.

  5. About 1900 my great grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Louis E. Palmer, rented the octagon house for a time. I have a photograph of my grandfather sitting in a chair outside by a window and the family story is that the house in the photograph is Wood Dawn.
    Ray Henry
    Rochester, MI

    1. I would love to see this picture you have.