In 1997, while The Land Conservancy was working with the Hayashi Family to plant trees along San Luis Obispo Creek, the nearby Octagon Barn was a vacant shell of its historic past. The crumbling structure known by area residents and visitors for over 100 years was on its last legs. The Land Conservancy’s Executive Director at the time, Ray Belknap, approached the Hayashi Family with the idea of restoring the old barn. Ray recognized the rarity of the architecture, the symbolism- tying it to an agricultural landscape, and its potential for new life. In 1998, The Land Conservancy leased the Octagon Barn and began the huge undertaking of its restoration.
When The Land Conservancy attempted to research the Octagon Barn’s origins, there were several mysteries still unsolved, such as its year of construction and the builder. Piecing together anecdotal information that we have since uncovered, we believe the structure was built in 1906. The builders of the Octagon Barn were: John Damaso, an Azorean immigrant and a carpenter by trade; Henri LaFranchi, a young Swiss immigrant and the owner of a small meat-market in San Luis Obispo, and a third, unidentified man, who has been described as a “milk farmer.” It was in that year that the barn played host to its first birth. A local family has shared their story of their mother being born in the Octagon Barn in 1900 while her family was temporarily living there. We have obtained an official Chain of Title for this parcel of land, so during the time of the Barn’s inception, the owners of the parcel of land were Ramona Hilliard and William Mighell. We also know that the Octagon Barn is only one of three of its kind (round or octagon-shaped) left standing in California.
To read the updated compilation of the oral history of the Octagon Barn, click here. If you have an anecdotal story to share regarding the history surrounding the Octagon Barn, please contact us to be part of our Octagon Barn Oral History Project.