Spite Houses, Buildings that were Constructed with the Sole Purpose of Irritating Neighbors and Relatives
Each of us reacts in different ways when we are mad at someone. Some people get aggressive, some break things, while others just keep it to themselves and heal from within. But there are people who build houses when they are pissed at someone! Sounds far-fetched, but its true! Known as “spite houses,” these houses were built by people to aggravate their neighbors or their relatives. Read on to find out more about these unique structures.
Spite houses are buildings that are constructed out of malice rather than for comfort to irritate or infuriate neighbors. They date back to as far as the 18th century. One of the oldest spite houses was built in 1716 by Thomas Wood and is still standing tall and occupied.
There was a time when there were no building codes. People used to make homes whenever and whatever way they wished. During those times, it was common for people to erect structures that came to be known as “spite houses.” These structures were erected to irritate neighbors and make their lives uncomfortable. The purposes of constructing spite houses are many. Some are designed to block views or limit access, while others have been erected to just make the area look ugly. These houses are a constant reminder to people who have performed any misdeeds. Even though at first glance the houses might look normal, they are strategically placed to vex the people they are meant to offend.
One of the oldest spite houses is located in Marblehead, Massachusetts. It was built by Thomas Wood in 1716 and eventually came to be known as the Old Spite House. Wood was a sailmaker and there are two stories that define the purpose of the spite house he built. The first story goes that the house was occupied by two brothers. They occupied different sections, wouldn’t talk to one another, and refused to sell to the other. The other story goes that Wood was given a tiny share of his father’s land, while his brother received the majority of the estate. This infuriated Wood and he built his 10-feet-wide spite house to block his older brother’s view. In spite of being built in the 18th century, the house still stands tall and is occupied.
There have been a number of spite houses built across the world like the McCobb Spite House, The Tyler Spite House, Hollensbury’s Spite House, etc. While one was created to block the light going into the adjacent home, another was constructed in an alley so as to keep the foot traffic away. While some are mansions, some are tiny. We present below few of the most interesting spite house cases.
In 1806, Thomas McCobb returned home from business to discover that his stepbrother had inherited the family mansion. Upset at this, McCobb constructed a mansion directly opposite to his family mansion to spite his stepbrother. In 1925, the McCobb Spite House was moved by barge from Phippsburg to Deadman’s Point in Rockport, Maine.
Dr. John Tyler, one of the first American-born ophthalmologists to perform a cataract operation, owned a piece of land near the courthouse square in Frederick, Maryland. In 1814, city officials decided to extend the main street by laying down a road through the land owned by Tyler. Tyler was fighting against this when he discovered a law that prevented the building of a road through a land that had a building under construction. When the road workers came to the site the next morning, they found men laying the foundation for a building. Dr. Tyler built the Tyler Spite House to spite the city.
In 1830, John Hollensbury’s home was located beside an alley that had an enormous amount of foot traffic and horse-drawn carriages. Hollensbury was so annoyed with the commotion that he constructed a 7-foot wide, 25-foot deep, 325-square-foot, two-story building right in the alley. He used the brick walls of the adjacent homes as side walls for the new house. He did all this just so that he could sleep peacefully! The house stands tall even today and is currently occupied.
The Boston Skinny House was built by a war veteran to spite his brother. He did so because his brother erected a massive home on the inherited land that they were supposed to share. The smaller home blocked the light and the view from the larger house.
In the 19th century, a developer from Freeport, New York was against Freeport being laid out in a grid. So, he put up a Victorian house, apparently overnight, to spite the grid designers. The house that later came to be called The Freeport Spite House still stands today and is occupied.
The 20th century, Alameda Spite House was constructed by Charles Froling whose land was taken by the city to build a street. So, he built this 10-foot-wide house on the tiny strip of land left to him to spite the city and an annoying neighbor.
In 1925, a neighbor cited a low price for a piece of land adjacent to a man’s house. Insulted by the low price, the builder constructed a tiny house to block the neighbor’s house from the main street. This gave birth to the Montlake Spite House that is just 55 inches wide. However, there are numerous stories on the origin of this spite house, making its origins still a bit of a mystery.
Some of these spite houses have been turned into commercial places or offices like the O’Reilly Spite House. Some have been torn down like the Richardson Spite House.
Francis O’Reilly owned a piece of land in West Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1908. He approached his neighbor to sell the land for a good price, but the neighbor refused. O’Reilly then constructed a 308-square-foot building, measuring 37 feet in length and only 8 feet in breadth to spite the neighbor. The O’Reilly Spite House is still standing tall and has been occupied by an interior decorating firm as of mid-2009.
The Richardson Spite House was located in New York City. The house was built in 1882 by Joseph Richardson on a plot of land he owned. He did this to spite his neighbor who had tried to acquire Richardson’s land. The neighbor offered only $1,000 while Richardson demanded $5,000. When the deal fell through, Richardson built the spite house. Although it was impractical, the building had all the necessary functionalities. It was finally demolished in 1915.
A similar fate occurred with Salem Spite House in 1898 which was torn down after the owner died to avoid a lawsuit from an obnoxious neighbor.
Although spite houses won’t be as common in the future, the ones that exist today are examples of both contempt and determination. These houses have repulsed people but, at the same time, they are built by strong-willed people who refused to be pushed around.
With new laws being created around home construction, spite houses have made their way onto the “endangered list.” In 2015, a 19th-century spite wall, separating a greystone mansion from a neighboring yard, was removed. Who knows what might be next? Now that walls are being removed, the next thing you know, houses might be torn down! Some people feel that it is actually difficult to appreciate a structure built on hate and rage.
Yet, some people see these houses differently. They feel that these houses are unique structures driven by a feeling that is not generally attached to construction. These houses are a reminder that a home symbolizes a person’s place in the world. They are an amalgamation of two opposite qualities in a man. These houses show contempt and a strong-will towards the same place. These houses are built by people who refused to be pushed around by official rules or mean neighbors and relatives. They stood firm on their principles, no matter the cost.[source: 1, 2]
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