Newfoundland architecture: From the Octagon Castle to the Fogo Island Inn

Archival Moment

August 18, 1898

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. E 19 - 31. Octagon Castle, Topsaiil.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. E 19 – 31. Octagon Castle, Topsail.

The world press  has in recent years been  fascinated by the construction and opening of the Fogo Island Inn, a milestone in the work of The Shorefast Foundation and its founder, visionary Zita Cobb. Following a successful career in the high technology industry, Cobb returned to Fogo Island, her birthplace, to invest millions.

In August 1898, the world press was fascinated by the Octagon Castle, Topsail.

Travel writers have throughout history made their way to Newfoundland and Labrador to comment on this place, governments over the years have been actively courting travel writers as part of their tourism strategy.

In 1898 there was much excitement with the news that J.C. Baker, the Art Editor of “The World”, was in travelling in Newfoundland and he was keen to write about this place.  In particular Baker was fascinated by Octagon Castle and its owner Professor Charles Danielle.

Baker wrote to Danielle to ask that he:

“Send me details on how and why you took up your life on the borders of that delightful lake, (Rocky Pond, Topsail) in the solitude of the wilderness; I think it would make an interesting article …”

“The World”  was at the time the most successful of the New York newspapers. In 1898 it was under the direction of Joseph Pulitzer who was in an aggressive era of circulation building. In 1896, the World began using a four-color printing press; it was the first newspaper to launch a color supplement.

Professor Danielle was excited about the possibility, J.C. Baker was requesting:

“Photos of yourself at present, and some of the old ones in costume, together with photos of Octagon castle exterior and interior?”

The local press, the Evening Telegram  was reporting:

“When a journal like the New York World, with a circulation of over 700,000, thinks it’s worthwhile to illustrate and publish the Professor’s enterprise, the latter must surely be a live man, and the Octagon, a most remarkable place…”

It was indeed a remarkable place.

Professor Danielle had previous to the Octagon Castle been best known for another building that he constructed the Oriental Palace, built on the north bank of Quidi Vidi in 1893. Although he named it the Royal Pavilion, in newspaper advertisement he described it as the “Magnificent Oriental Palace.” Its interior was decorated in oriental style.  Its ballroom accommodated 1,500 people; the kitchen had four large ranges and as his advertising said.

“The attendants will be attired in oriental costumes and in harmony with the general surroundings — that none but Danielle’s has ever yet gladdened the eyes of Newfoundland with.”

It appears that Professor Danielle had a difficult relationship with his landlord (Mr. Joe Ross) at Quidi Vidi and in a fit of anger disassembled the Palace, board by board and had it carted to Rocky Pond, now called Octagon Pond.  There, he reassembled the palace in octagon style and named it Octagon Castle. The castle was envisioned as a restaurant and resort. The main building was a true octagon shape, with eight sides. It was four stories in height, covered 3,750 square feet of land and enclosed 10, 880 square feet of floor space.

Octagon Castle soon became a popular resort for the pleasure-loving public of St John’s. Societies and clubs held their picnics there, and on holidays hundreds of excursionists flocked to the castle to enjoy the boating and other amenities. Once a year Danielle provided a day’s outing for orphans from the city. To publicize the place he issued pamphlets describing its attractions and even included a list of “don’ts” to prospective clients.

“Don’t bring flasks in your pockets; the Professor keeps Strang’s, Bennett’s, and Gaden’s best. . . . Don’t bring any growlers with you; they keep me awake nights. . . . I want to implore patrons again not to bring flasks and bottles with them, and break them around the grounds. I have buried broken bottles until I can’t get a whole angle worm to catch a trout, they are all cut up in bits.”

Many stories have grown up around the proprietor of the Octagon Castle. One describes him lamenting the state of his health early in May 1901 and predicting that in a year he would “be no more.” Exactly a year later he died.

Octagon Castle was destroyed by fire in 1915.

New – Old Word: Growler, a container (as a can or pitcher) for beer bought by the measure.

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