The Octagon House

Posted on October 8, 2019

The Octagon House in Washington, D.C. was a home with an interesting floorplan and design. The house was once the temporary home of then-President James Madison and his wife Dolley as the White House was undergoing reconstruction due to the fire that burned a good portion of the building during the War of 1812. While it remains one of the more notable landmarks in our nation’s capital, the stories of hauntings and spirits roaming around continue to be told even to this day. Is it true that long after her death, Dolley Madison continues to stay around? Are there the sounds of screams and whispers still being heard near the stairwell? These are just a couple of questions that are usually asked when people intend to visit the Octagon House. We will dive into the history of the house and talk about the stories of how it might be one of the most haunted places to visit in Washington, D.C.


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The home was constructed in Washington to be the home of John Tayloe III. At one point, he was considered to be one of the wealthiest Americans during the post-Revolutionary War era. At the outset, he planned on building a home in Philadelphia since it was closer to Baltimore and other major places of interest personal to Tayloe. As word got around with his intent to build, William Augustine Washington III (who was married to Tayloe’s sister Sarah) persuaded John to construct the home on the outskirts of what was Washington D.C. at the time. Today, the home sits in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of the city. He commissioned William Thornton, who was also responsible for designing the U.S. Capitol building, to design the house for him.

Tayloe was also a relative of George Washington, who was made well aware of Tayloe’s plans to construct the home. It was Washington himself that suggested that Thornton would be responsible for the architecture of the Tayloe home. The home was six-sided (despite the name “Octagon House”) and was made from bricks and was designed with some of the most innovative features at the time (like a closet for every room including the kitchen). The doors were made from mahogany while the rest of the home was made with some of the best materials that would make the house stand out as luxurious.

The Octagon House was home to John Tayloe III and his wife, the former Ann Ogle. During the War of 1812, Ann Ogle Tayloe offered the residence as a place for the French Consulate. At the time, she intended to spare the house from destruction since the British had already burned the White House down. Because of the extensive damage, James and Dolley Madison were residents of the Octagon House and had paid $500 for six months of rent. While Tayloe III was a Federalist, he was not solidly in Madison’s corner politically. But he remained loyal to his country in the War of 1812 serving as a Colonel in the Virginia Militia. The Octagon House also served as the backdrop for the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which ultimately ended the war between the United States and Britain.

In 1828, Tayloe III died while residing in The Octagon House. His wife Anne would live another 27 years before dying at the house as well in 1855. The Tayloe children would begin to rent out the house to various tenants soon after their mother’s death. At one point, the house served as a school and even was used by the U.S. government throughout the 1870s before it was later reverted back to a private residence for families. It wasn’t until the 1890s when the American Institute of Architects would outright purchase the house in 1898. They occupied the building as their main office until it was named a national landmark in 1960.

Conversion Into A Museum

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Just ten years after being named a national landmark, the Octagon House was rebranded as a museum. It wouldn’t be until at least 1990 when the home was restored back to its original 1815 look. Since the home was a sight to some of the historic events like the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, the Octagon Home was considered one of the notable places to visit for tourists. While not considered one of the most popular, the house does get a lot of visitors on a regular basis. The museum at one point had closed for six years (between 2007 to 2013). Today, the American Institute of Architects offers tours and public programming related to the Octagon House.

Reports Of Paranormal Activity

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The Octagon House had long been a fixture in Washington, D.C. since the early years of America. Aside from the Tayloe family residing in the home, many residents have come and gone through the years. Since the home was the place where both John and Ann Tayloe have passed, it may have been possible that their spirits would be looming around long after their deaths. It is said that it may be one of the most haunted buildings in Washington, D.C. One place in particular where most of the paranormal activity was said to occur was on the stairwell of the house.

Some visitors recall feeling cold spots and “eerie feelings” as they ascended or descended the stairwell. The second floor and third-floor landings have also been places where specters and paranormal activities may have been viewed or reported according to residents and even museum staff. Aside from the Tayloe’s themselves, it was said that two of their daughters may also be around to haunt the home. It was said that one of the Tayloe girls had died after a freak accident (specifically a fatal fall down the staircase). Because of this alleged incident, some have heard random screams at night knowing that they were probably the only ones in the house at the time. The earliest report of this specific occurrence dates back to right around 1908.

Another famous specter is said to be overstaying her welcome in the home. Rumor has it that Dolley Madison (who had passed in another house in Washington D.C. in 1849) is said to be haunting the Octagon House (as well as other D.C. landmarks like the White House and the Cutts House where she lived out her final years).

The first initial reports of hauntings of the Octagon House were said to date back as early as 1888. At that time, the house was already being rented out to various tenants. One night, nearly a dozen men were said to have spent the night here with the intent to scare off any of the spirits that may have occupied the house. The accounts of spirits in the Octagon House were later published in a local newspaper, which was eventually quoted multiple times throughout the 20th century when some publications were covering the Octagon House.

Soon after the house was converted into a museum, the superintendent at the time was said to have witnessed various lights flickering on or off or having them turn off for no apparent reason with no one at the switch. He also said that some of the doors would open for no reason at all, even on nights when there was no wind reported.


The Octagon House may not be one of the most recognized landmarks in Washington, D.C. But the house is definitely a place worth checking out if you happen to be a fan of paranormal activities and ghost stories. This place is packed with a whole lot of history (and probably a few spirits that manage to stick around over so many centuries). The museum still holds tours on a regular basis, so you would be crazy to pass up the opportunity to check this out.