The Defiant Construction of Spite Houses

A spite house often begins with a neighborly dispute.
A spite house often begins with a neighborly dispute.

Spite houses are buildings that are constructed or modified substantially to irritate neighbors or any party experiencing a land dispute. Spite houses may be built to block out light or access to the neighboring buildings or can portray a symbol of defiance. Strange and impractical structures characterize the houses. Spite houses are often built in anger and typically designed to block the a view of a neighbor and also provoke them or as an act of revenge. Spit houses can be found everywhere around the world, although there are some infamous examples that will be discussed alone.

Examples of Spite Houses

Marblehead, Massachusetts

Thomas Wood built a ten-foot wide house in Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1716 as a spite house to block the view of two other houses on Orne Street. He was aggrieved by the tiny share of his father’s estate and decided to spoil the view for his brothers. Other theories suggest that the house was inhabited by two brothers who could not speak to each other and refused to sell to one another.

Phippsburg, Maine

When Thomas McCobb, who was heir to his father’s property and shipbuilding business, returned to Phippsburg, Maine in 1806 he found that his step brother had inherited the family mansion. Upset about the loss of the mansion in the wilderness, Thomas built a spite house across the mansion to spite his step brother.

Frederick, Maryland

Dr. John Tyler who was an ophthalmologist owned a parcel of land in Frederick, Maryland near the courthouse square. The city had made plans to extend Record Street through Tyler’s land to meet West Patrick Street in 1814. To protest the city’s action, Tyler discovered that there was a law preventing the construction of roads if there was an ongoing construction on the path of the proposed road. Tyler immediate instructed workers to pour a building foundation with an intention to spite the city.

Alexandria, Virginia

John Hollensbury’s home in Alexandria, Virginia which bordered an alley attracted annoying horse-drawn traffic and loiterers. To prevent these loiterers and traffic from using the alleyway, Hollensbury constructed a two-storey building in 1830 using brick walls of the adjacent homes on the side of the new house. The living room of the Hollensbury Spite House has gouges while the house currently stands unoccupied.

Boston, Massachusetts

In 1874, two brothers in Boston, Massachusetts got into a dispute. Each of the two brothers had inherited a piece of land from their father. While the younger brother was away in the military, the eldest built a large home leaving the younger one with just a shred of property which he thought tiny to build a house on. When the military brother came back in 1874, he built a wooden house to spite his brother ruining his view and blocking the sunlight. The tiny house is still standing unoccupied to date.

Hiawatha, Kansas

In 1880, Adam Schilling sold part of is 80-acre land which was in Hiawatha, Kansas to James Fallon who built a house on it. The 80-acre land was suited to add to the town of Hiawatha, but James Fallon refused to sell his portion that he had built on. Schilling eventually built modest tenant houses to spite Fallon and render his home unendurable for him and his family.

Challenges of Constructing Spite Houses

While spite fences remain popular in most of the places around the world, Spite houses are rare in some places, especially in urban centers and cities. The modern building codes prevent the construction of a house that is likely to obstruct neighbor's views and privacy. Construction of spite houses may also be very expensive if the owners are not planning to put them into meaningful use except for obstruction.

The Defiant Construction of Spite Houses

RankLocation (Year Constructed)Reason behind Spiteful Construction
1Marblehead, Massachusetts (1716)Feud between brothers
2Phippsburg, Maine (1806)Feud over family inheritence
3Frederick, Maryland (1814)Dispute over city building ordinance
4Alexandria, Virginia (1830)Attempt to prevent loiterers
5Boston, Massachusetts (1874)Feud between brothers over property
6Hiawatha, Kansas (1880)Refusal to sell larger parcel of land
7New York, New York (1882)Refusal to sell larger parcel of land
8Salem, Massachusetts (1898)Attempt to block view of neighbor
9Gainford, England (1904)Retaliation against perceived slight from church
10West Cambridge, Massachusetts (1908)Refusal to sell larger parcel of land
11Buenos Aires, Argentina (1934)Refusal to sell larger parcel of land

More in Did You Know