As modern as this home in Laurens may appear, it was actually built in 1859. Considered one of the first – if not the first – concrete houses in South Carolina, it is a remaining example of a structure designed and built by Zelotes Lee Holmes, a Presbyterian minister and educator from New York who made his way to the Columbia Theological Seminary in 1830.
The lime, rock, and concrete house boasts walls between 12 and 15 inches thick. Some design quirks can be seen when touring through the home such as these hollow passages to allow for cooling.
Each of the twelve rooms has a fireplace, as the materials of the walls allowed for one to be built anywhere in the house. The basement contains several rooms – also each with a fireplace – that were used as quarters for enslaved people who lived and worked here along with an an ice house.
In 1970, more than $200,000 of federal, state, and private funds were used to restore the home. However, those funds were instead raised to convert the home into its current use as an apartment building.
Legend has it that during the Civil War, Mrs. Holmes hid the family’s valuables from raiding Union troops in a “dungeon” accessible only by removing the floor boards in the entrance hall and descending a ladder. The story also claims that the dungeon provided a tunnel to nearby Laurens Cotton Mills to escape during this frightful and uncertain time. Whether or not the tale is true, it adds another layer of intrigue to this fascinating piece of South Carolina architectural history.
The Octagon House, also known as the Holmes-Watson House, is listed in the National Register, which says the following:
(Holmes-Watson House) The Octagon House, constructed in 1859, is considered to be the first concrete house built is South Carolina. This eight-sided structure with hipped roof has four porches and four extended rooms on the first floor level and a central octagonal core for the second-floor level. The octagonal design is maintained throughout, even down to the eight-sided porch columns and chimneys. Window design and placement varies in each façade, but all have granite sills and lintels. A large square skylight that illuminates the interior central hall of both floors crowns the upper roof. The octagonal motif that is so prominent on the exterior is muted inside the house.
Below the first floor are basement rooms with outside access only. Most of these rooms were originally used as domestic slave quarters, but one small one built entirely of field stone served as an ice house and collection point for moisture which accumulated in the concrete walls and was transferred to this location by a series of drain pipes. While the house displays several interesting architectural features, it is primarily significant as an early appearance of the method of construction utilized by the designer and builder, Zelotes Lee Holmes, a Presbyterian minister and educator of upcountry South Carolina. The walls are from 12 to 15 inches thick and include hollow passages that provide a cooling ventilation system throughout the house. As one of the first concrete houses in South Carolina, the Octagon House stands as a landmark to a structural technique that did not fully mature in the state until the twentieth century.
More Pictures of the Octagon House
Deborah Watson Bain says
This was my grandparents’ home – Guy Livingston Watson and Leola Belotte Watson – from the 1920s to the 1960s. My mother and father, Guy Livingston Watson Jr. and Eloise Jacks Watson, lived there in the 1930s where my brother, Guy Livingston Watson, III was born. I was born in the 1950s and remember playing there in that huge beautiful house with all my brothers and cousins. The Watsons had a large family with lots of children filling the home with laughter and merriment for years. As a young child, I especially remember the large skylight in the home which filled the house with light and the fireplaces in each room … such a very special place to remember. I have always loved skylights and fireplaces, probably because of the influence this house had on me. How lucky I was to be a part of this as a child!
SC Picture Project says
Deborah, this is the most wonderful and interesting comment. Thank you for sharing it with us all. I’m grateful for your fond memories!
Charles W. McKinney says
My wife’s father, Jack Hayne Davis, was born in the house. Zelotes Lee Holmes was a grandfather. One of Holmes’ sons started a Bible college; another was the first director of the Bureau of Mines.
Charles Vernon Watson says
Another comment from someone who knows. There are no “far depths” of the house. You can easily go to another site that lays out all of the rooms and floors. The basement level is above ground and, for the most part, has a dirt floor. In the center basement room there is a hole that was supposed to be the beginning of the tunnel. It was about two feet deep. Actually it was put there to keep certain foods my grandmother preserved cooler in the summer. My Uncle Tom dug it in the twenties or thirties. The last time I went there to look it had been refilled.
SC Picture Project says
Thanks for your comment, it is much appreciated!
Sally Hawkins says
It also have the first “running water” as water was collected in the cupola on top of the house and run through copper tubes to spigots in the house.
Charles Vernon Watson says
My family owned the house from the 1920s through the 1960s. I stayed there a great deal. There were no tunnels, skeletons, chains on walls on anything of that nature, although on one occasion I did find a dead pigeon in the attic.
Earl Sanders says
It is true, in the tunnel below the house it did run down to the cotton mill, a friend found an old civil war sword. Also, there was a dungeon in the far depths of the house where prisoners were kept that had just the skeleton remains hanging from chains. I thought this was so cool back when my father and I went to see that old house. That's was in the early 1970's
Jeff McGunegle says
Is it possible to buy this house?
You can always find out who owns it and ask! Good luck!