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American Flag

History Writing Samples
by Lisa R. Hooker

Robert Heft's History Class Project

Vignettes from Fairfield County Treasures Volumes I and II, published by Lisa R. Hooker in 1988 and 1990.

Most Americans do not realize our 50-star flag was originally designed as a Lancaster High School history class project. In 1958, Robert Heft was an LHS junior who was very interested in politics.

At the time, Alaska was seeking admission as a state. Heft reasoned since Alaska was lopsided with Democrats, the Republicans would want to even things out with the admission of Hawaii, which primarily supported the GOP at the time.

So Heft sat on the floor of his grandparents living room and ripped apart a 48-star flag – an action he was scolded for as being disrespectful – and rearranged it with 50 stars. Heft purchased $2.87 worth of supplies: blue cloth to replace the field and white adhesive iron-on material for the additional stars.

LHS history teacher Stanley Pratt did not think too much of Heft’s logic and new flag. He gave the student a B- and commented the project lacked originality. To raise his grade, Pratt challenged him to send his design to Congress. If it ever was adopted, the teacher said he would change the grade to an “A.”

Heft was furious, and as it turned out, his logic was correct. Alaska became a state on January 3, 1959 and Hawaii was admitted to the Union on August 21, 1959. Statehood can be granted anytime, but a star can only be added to the flag on the Fourth of July. The 49-star flag was good only for one year and Heft’s 50-star design just happened to be in the right hands.

Earlier, Heft sent his sample flag to 10th Congressional District Congressman Walter Moeller. When a 50-star Old Glory was needed, Moeller passed Heft’s sample onto Congressman Wayne Hays, chairman of the Congressional Flag Design Committee.

In 1960, President Dwight Eisenhower selected Heft’s design. The President himself telephoned Heft and invited him to the White House for the July 4, 1960 unveiling ceremony. Newly employed, Heft put the President on hold to ask for time off from work. He was given the OK, took the president off hold and asked, “Dwight, are you there?” The informality of the 18-year-old drew a chuckle from the Oval Office.

The unveiling ceremony was held one month after Heft’s high school graduation and history teacher Pratt kept his promise. The grade was changed to an “A” with the comment: “I guess if it’s good enough for Washington, it’s good enough for me and I hereby change the grade.”

Pratt was right about the lack of originality, though. Of the 109,000 design submissions, 90,000 were paper sketches just like Heft’s prototype flag. Even though there is no Congressional record of Heft’s design, he is convinced his was the first with 50 stars because he created it in 1958. That was the time when most people were thinking only 49 stars.

By the end of 1960, Heft had registered designed for states 51 though 60. The stripes are the same as today’s flag, but each has different star pattern. Lloyds of London has insured the original 50-star Old Glory for $500,000.

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Saving the Octagon House

Appeared in the April 2006 issue of Country Living magazine, published by Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives, Inc., Columbus Ohio.

Motorists along Route 23 in Pickaway County can no longer see the historic Gregg-Crites Home from the highway.

“In the winter you could see it from Route 23 when the leaves were off the trees. Now it’s more hidden. It’s still nearby, but now it’s safe,” said Stephanie Sharpnack, trustee for Circleville’s Roundtown Conservancy.

The majestic structure, more commonly known as the Octagon House, is safe because of the tireless efforts of Circleville’s Roundtown Conservancy. The unique octagonal home was moved to a new location in 2004 because of a retail development project.

The danger George Gregg started construction on his home in 1855, finishing it the next year. A banker, Gregg also raised purebred Devon cattle. The historic house sat undisturbed on the 166-acre Gregg farm until development threatened its existence.

In 2004, the Ohio Preservation Alliance (OPA) placed the Gregg-Crites House on that year’s list of Ohio’s Most Endangered Historic Sites. OPA considered 30 sites and chose 11 for its annual list. It was the first year the Roundtown Conservancy applied for the designation. “We needed their help to draw attention to the project and how dire the situation was for the house. We appreciated their understanding how important this was,” said Stuart Sharpnack, Roundtown Conservancy president.

After lengthy and exhaustive negotiations, the house and two acres at the rear of the property were donated to the Conservancy by property owner Mary Virginia Crites Hannan. The Crites family owned the home and property since the 1920s. As the new owner, Roundtown Conservancy had to secure funding and a way to move the house to its new site a half-mile away.

Given the cost and work, that half-mile may as well have been 100.

The non-profit volunteer group solicited the National Trust for Historic Preservation for assistance. “The National Trust is very interested and says the house has great historical value. To our knowledge it was the first time in its history it made an emergency loan. They lent us money so we could move and save the house,” Stephanie said. Area businesses, residents and history buffs across the country also are contributing donations both large and small. “Some were from former Pickaway County and Circleville residents and some were from others who heard about us and wanted to help,” Stephanie said.

The house
Octagon houses were the rage from 1850-60. The style was made popular by architect Orson Fowler. He believed the greater volume of space, additional light and better ventilation made eight-sided homes a healthful architectural alternative to other designs. President Thomas Jefferson even built Poplar Forest, his summer home in Bedford County, VA, in the shape of an octagon.

Midwesterners particularly embraced the style. “The Ohio Preservation Alliance says the Gregg-Crites Home is one of only 34 octagonal structures left in the state and most of them are barns,” says Stuart.

For Circleville residents, the Octagon House is reminiscent of the county’s first courthouse. It, too, had eight sides, but was torn down in the 1840s.

The OPA says the symmetrical exactness of the Gregg-Crites House is rare. The home has two main entrances. The first floor features a grand main hall with a freestanding spiral staircase that ascends to the cupola. Some have called it the spine of the house, as the house is built around it.

“Without question it’s the focal point of the interior,” Stuart said.

The first-floor ceilings are 14-feet high. Each room has a fireplace on the inner wall and an opposite doorway leading to an outdoor veranda that encircles the house.

The second floor has eight bedrooms. The upstairs ceilings slope from 12 feet on the inner wall to eight feet on the outside wall. Each bedroom door opens to a circular hallway surrounding the staircase.

The cupola is the crowning glory of the house. “From the cupola Mr. Gregg could see for miles in every direction,” Stuart said.

The move
Roundtown Conservancy enlisted the expertise of Chillicothe preservationist Franklin Conaway to lead the Gregg-Crites House project.

In January 2004, soil around the home was removed to get to the foundation. The move itself occurred February 14 and 15, 2004.

“Holes were cut into the foundation and large steel I-beams were inserted through them. Then the house and the steel beams were shifted onto 96 wheels. The beams sat on the wheels,” Stuart explained.

“A hydraulic system moved the tires. As the terrain changed, the hydraulics automatically adjusted how the house was supported. When we watched, it almost looked like it was moving by itself across the field,” Stuart said.

Everyone worried about the staircase. “The staircase is intact,” Stuart said. “We were warned it could fall if we moved the house, but it’s still standing.”

Once moved, the Roundtown Conservancy placed the house on its new foundation. “Now we need to install glass windows to protect the interior and then we’ll start working inside,” Stephanie said.

The plans
Roundtown Conservancy envisions developing the site to include a visual and performing arts center. The Gregg-Crites House would feature architectural and historic education activities. “We can see focusing on architecture, because of the house itself. This is a showcase of Pickaway County history,” Stephanie said.

But big plans require big money.

The move and the new foundation cost about $300,000. To date, the Roundtown Conservancy has paid about half of that.

When that is paid off, the group will turn its attention to raising another $500,000 to $700,000 to convert the Gregg-Crites Home into a cultural and historical arts center. The Roundtown Conservancy is searching for grants, but is well aware federal and state money for such projects is very limited.

“Everyone said we’d never be able to move the house, but we did,” Stephanie said. “We know we’ll raise the rest somehow. People have been very supportive. Anyone who has a love of history can appreciate this project,” Stephanie said.

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