Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Planning, Development, and Preservation

Committee Member

Carter Hudgins, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Amalia Leifeste

Committee Member

Frances Ford


Orson Squire Fowler remains a well-known name within the field of architectural history, thanks to his octagonal house designs which enjoyed a degree of popularity during the second half of the nineteenth century. An avid phrenologist, Fowler’s concern for healthy living environments influenced his house designs. In the first edition of his book A Home For All (1848), Fowler advocated for board wall construction for houses, a method he abandoned in the third edition (1853) in favor of concrete. The material he described as concrete would be laid in a “gravel wall plan” and consisted of a lime-based mortar with larger aggregate than modern-day mixes. Scholarly literature has focused primarily on the proliferation of the octagon house design and less on the materials. This thesis remedies this gap by analyzing gravel wall buildings constructed in Augusta County, Virginia during the second half of the nineteenth century. Orson Fowler’s influence in Augusta County, Virginia, is evident in forty-eight “gravel wall” houses and buildings constructed between 1859 and ca. 1900. Augusta County’s architectural history has received a great deal of study over the past decades, but gravel wall construction has been misidentified or ignored. While the county’s gravel wall buildings seem to closely follow Fowler’s prescribed material, they entirely reject the octagon form and instead follow local plan types. These plan types vary widely, from symmetrical to asymmetrical, and single-pile to double-pile, all of which are consonant with long-standing vernacular plan types identified by earlier scholarship. These buildings link Augusta County with the progressive construction methods advocated by Fowler and others. While progressive construction methods were adopted, traditional plan types were retained. Mortar analysis undertaken on mortar samples from various sites indicates a great deal of variation between sites and with Fowler’s prescribed ratios and suggests that variation not only existed in plan, but also material. The gravel wall method of construction faded out around the turn of the twentieth century, replaced by cheaper and quicker alternatives like concrete block.



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