A spite house is exactly what it sounds like – a building that was built or altered for the sole purpose of exacting revenge. A person would have to be pretty seriously spiteful to spend the time, effort and money to construct a whole building in the name of anger. Let's look at a few edifices that were born out of those emotions.
The Hollensbury Spite House
I can imagine that in 1830, having horses constantly trod near your house would get pretty irritating. The noise, for one thing, but all of those road apples being dropped wouldn't be too pleasant, either. And that's exactly how John Hollensbury of Alexandria, Va., felt about the alley next to his house that constantly received horse and foot traffic. So, to prevent people from using the alley, he built a seven-foot wide, 25-foot deep, two-story house. He actually used one wall of the existing house to construct the new house, so as a result the living room of the Spite House has deep gouges in the brick wall from the wheels of carriages brushing up against it. Photo from Michael Temchine of the New York Times
The Richardson Spite House
In Manhattan, at Lexington and 82nd, imagine a tiny apartment building created just to tick someone off. In 1882, two neighbors each owned a small plot of adjacent land. Each plot was only about 104 feet long and five feet wide. One of the men, Hyman Sarner, offered to purchase the land from his neighbor, Joseph Richardson, for $1,000. Richardson countered that the land was worth at least $5,000. When they failed to reach an agreement, Richardson built a rather impractical four-story apartment building on his tiny rectangle of land. It was demolished in 1915, unfortunately – I'd love to see that tiny little apartment building dwarfed by the huge buildings and museums near 82nd and Lex today. I bet the rent would be outrageous.
The Skinny House
The Skinny House in Boston is pretty well-known, at least in the area. The story goes that in 1874, a couple of brothers had a fight over the land they had jointly inherited from their father. Instead of properly settling the fight, one brother built a large home on the land while the other brother was away in the military. When the traveling brother returned home, he decided to spite his greedy brother and build a small house on what was left of the land they both owned, blocking his brother's nice view.
It still stands today and is occupied. At its widest point, the Skinny House is just over 10 feet wide. The narrowest point in the house is only 6.2 feet wide.
The Edleston Spite House
Spiteful construction might seem like an American phenomenon, but it's really not. England has seen its share of spite as well. In 1904, the Edleston family owned a plot of land next to the church yard of St. Mary's in Gainford, England, where they attended church. When Joseph died, the family asked to build a monument in the churchyard in Joseph's memory – he was a very active member of the church and had been for 41 years. The church said that the churchyard was already too full, but that the family could donate their land to the church and build something on that. Irked, the family built a house on the land next to the church, complete with a 40 foot column that pointed a V-sign (victory?) toward the church. The house is still there today, although I unfortunately couldn't find any pictures of it.
The Tyler Spite House
You've been reading these and thinking "That's great, but what I would really like to do is spend the night in a spite house," haven't you? Well, you're in luck. The Tyler Spite House in Frederick, Md., is now a bed and breakfast. In 1814, Dr. John Tyler was the first American physician to perform a cataract operation. When the city made plans to extend a street directly through Tyler's land, he did a little research and found that a local law prohibited building a road if work was under way on a "substantial" building in the path of the new road. He found this law just in time – he immediately had a building foundation poured on the small piece of his property that the new road would run through and effectively stopped the road from being built.