An octagonal home in Bracebridge became an Ontario historic site

Dubbed "the Bird House" both for its shape and the name of its original owner, "Woodchester Villa" (the formal name of Henry J. Bird's octagonal home) is an early manifestation in Muskoka of octagonal designs that were part of the architectural movement spearheaded by American crusader Orson Fowler. This innovation in design also gave the eight-sided shape to homes, barns, and Kingston Penitentiary later in the 1800s.

The fascinating story behind the rare Bracebridge residence is told by Robert J. Boyer in his compact 1982 book Woodchester Villa.

This 22-page work resembles those brochure-like publications for fascinating buildings in the U.K. that today form part of Britain's National Heritage Trust. The author's visit to a number of those historic sites inspired him to write this book about Henry Bird, his inventions and scientific bent, and his distinctive home, all richly illustrated with black and white photographs.

Back in 1882 when dwellings in Muskoka were still being made of logs, or of boards in areas with a sawmill, or even of bricks once a brickworks opened, Henry Bird decided on the rarity of poured concrete construction. As a result, a Herculean effort was required to build "Woodchester Villa." Cement could only be brought to Bracebridge by boat, in those days before the railway came to town. Then the heavy bags of cement, and loads of gravel, had to be hauled by horse-drawn wagons to the top of one of town's highest hills.

This former home of Bracebridge woollen mill operator Henry Bird and his family was opened for summer visits in the early 1980s, thanks to Bracebridge Rotarians refurbishing the octagonal structure. As of 2012, this leading specimen of octagonal architecture in Ontario has been closed for substantial repairs.

— Review by J. Patrick Boyer

BookID: WoodchesterVilla
Muskoka Graphics, 1982
22 pages, 7 x 9 in
$12.95 CDN/USA paperback

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