Arch Stanton Guest Post: Spite Houses


You’ve heard stories about neighbors who have worn on each others’ nerves about whatever it is homeowners get mad at each other about – I’ll never know because I’m a Millennial and I’ll be renting forever! – and eventually resort to planting or cutting down trees just to be an asshole to their neighbor. That’s fun and all, but what if you literally built your house in such a way to deliberately inconvenience a neighbor? THAT is my kind of petty! I am stubborn enough to act against my self-interest for far too long if it even mildly interests someone I have deemed my arch nemesis, but these people are renewing my source of petty vindictiveness. Let’s review the Wikipedia page for spite houses found around the world:

  • The earliest example of a spite house can be found in Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1716. The theory  is one brother was gypped in his father’s estate while his old brother gained possession of the beautiful home of the patriarch, and the younger brother built a “home” only ten feet wide on a plot directly between the original home and its view from the top of a hill. Americans – being motherfuckers for longer than they had a country in which to do so!
  • In 1806, Thomas McCobb was heir to his father’s land and shipbuilding business when he made the terrible decision to take a vacation when his father died, allowing his stepbrother to swoop in and “inherit” the family mansion and business. When McCobb returned home to Phippsburg, Maine to discover this, in a fit he ordered a his new house be built directly across the street. Uhh… good one. As someone who regularly does things against his own best interests in devotion to spite, this seems like it’s only going to be a regular reminder about how pissed you are you don’t have the mansion. This was probably why his dad decided he shouldn’t inherit the business.
  • Ophthalmologist John Tyler was informed the town of Frederick, Maryland planned to connect a street through part of his property in 1814. Moving quickly, he discovered a law that forbade the town from building a road that would interrupt a building in progress, and hired a crew of workers to dig and pour a building foundation to be discovered by road crews when they started paving. John Tyler was the first American to perform a cataract operation, but I bet he didn’t anticipate his name being remembered throughout history for something else.
  • John Hollensbury got real pissed his house was one of two which bordered a narrow alley that horse-drawn carriages frequented in order to short cut across Alexandria, Virginia. One day, he constructed a short shell of a home in order to interrupt the traffic. I imagine him angrily peering at out of his living room window at all the goddamn kids in his alley. This shell of a house used the two existing homes as its outerwalls while adding more inside to tighten the gap and added a ceiling. Hollensbury basically made a bridge that still stands today with wagon-wheel hubs scuffs on the inside from carriages that completely ignored his attempts to deter them. Elie Wiesel once said “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference”, and no one understood this proverb better than John Hollensbury after watching carriages ride right through his shitty house.
  • In 1874, an old man died in Boston (this is a recurring theme). His sons each inherited part of the land, and while one was away serving in the military, the other built a large home infringing on his brother’s land and leaving a plot certainly too small to do anything with. You’ve read this far – you know what happens. The other brother returned to a depleted inheritance and cramped space, and immediately set about to building the shoddiest three-story building in order to block the sunlight and ruin the view of his shitty brother’s home. The home is only ten feet wide and somehow still stands today, showing the only thing that can outlast dwarven engineering is spite-fueled humanity.
  • In 1880, Adam Shilling made a life-altering mistake by selling three-quarters of an acre of his eighty acres for some reason, which eventually was bought by James Falloon. The closest town, Hiawatha, Kansas, sought to incorporate the property and offered a price for each plot. Schilling accepted but Falloon did not, and this rendered Schilling so infuriated he proceeded to build cheap tenement housing on his own land with the stated purpose of “rendering Falloon’s home obnoxious and unendurable” by renting to the most objectionable people he could find. This went zero to hundred REAL quick.
  • Joseph Richardson owned a sliver plot of land on Lexington Avenue in New York City and was so offended by the business dealings with Hyman Sarner who was trying to buy the small plot, he built a four-story building only five feet deep. I’m sure the fact “Hyman Sarner” was almost certainly Jewish had nothing to do with it. The building was somehow functional and consisted of eight suites, assuring Sarner wasn’t the only hyman getting boned on the plot.
  • William Waldorf Astor’s mansion was next door to his aunt Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor, whom he loathed. Waldorf opted to covert his mansion into the original Waldorf Hotel in order to eclipse his aunt’s home, and was sure to construct the building so his aunt could only look at a blank brick wall. Did you notice this was the first woman to be involved in any of these? Go figure.
  • In Collinsville, Connecticut, a butcher decided he’d had enough of his neighbor’s bullshit and built a “home” the width of a staircase and two-stories tall consisting only of Venetian blinds, which he would open only to stare malicious at his neighbor from his kitchen and leave closed the rest of the time to block the home from any sunlight. A butcher has to be one of the last people you want to offend right? He knows how to dispose of your body. (hint – hot dogs).
  • Freeport, New York decided to organize itself into a square grid system, which so infuriated a local developer he built a home “virtually overnight” on a triangular plot in order to disrupt the grid conversion. The house still stands. Imagine being so outraged over sensical and logical city planning you build a house. The underlying story here needs to be a the subject of a 10,000 word longread I would open and eventually read three months from later.
  • In 1904, James Edleston died in his home next to the church at which he served for 41 years. His children requested the church to erect a monument to honor his service, to which the church refused and stated they could donate THEIR land to the church and build a monument on part of it. This church had no idea what they had done. The children (sons. presumably), built a forty foot monolith to tower over the church and the surrounding woods in honor of their father. I’m sure this devoutly religious man really appreciated the giant phallic symbol his kids put up to mock the church he spent his life serving.
  • Francis O’Reilly owned a parcel of land only eight feet wide and bookended by streets. Seeing no purpose for the land, he offered to sell it to the abutting landowner due to a lack of feasible use of the land. The neighbor laughed in his face and shot him down in such a way that O’Reilly built a building covering the whole of his land (only 308 square feet) in such a way to encroach on his neighbor. In addition to “old/dead” and “men”, lets also include “New England Protestants” as another recurring theme.
  • In Sarajevo (turns out, other countries can be petty!), an old man had lived on a plot of land for generations was told to move in order to make room for a new city hall. After refusing payment and threats to move, he finally moved the house – piece by piece – and rebuilt it across the nearby river. Somehow, this was supposed to upset officials, but they got what they needed AND they didn’t have to pay for demo on this shitty home. You sure showed them dumbass. Should have taken the money.
  • In 1922, a husband and wife divorced in Newbury, Massachusetts, and as part of the separation a local court required the husband to build an exact replica of his house for his ex-wife. Imagine you split from your spouse and you were required to build a new house for them – the good news is your ex would soon be dead after your shitty house undoubtedly collapsed on them in the near future. The court did not mention WHERE the house needed to be built, so the husband when to the furthest, shittiest corner of town and proceeded to build his second house in a marsh with saltwater plumbing. The water wasn’t the only thing salty in Newbury! (NOTE – terrible joke. Remove/edit before posting.)
  • In 1925, a Seattle, Washington resident attempted to sell a small sliver of land to the abutting neighbor. The neighbor made such an insulting offer for the property, the resident built a 860 square foot building to block the space and generally be an eyesore. It was 15 feet wide at one end and only 55 INCHES at the other end.
  • In 1934, Corina Kavanagh, an Irish descendant in Buenos Aires, Argentina attempted to marry her children upward by offering one of her daughters to a local aristocratic family, the Anchorenas. The Anchorenas dismissed this immigrant of low-birth and returned to clinking their glasses full of malbec. Kavanagh proceeded to buy the local square the Anchorenas had installed between their palace and church of choice through anonymous backchannels, and built a high-rise in such a way the family would have to travel around the block where before they walked across the square. Old Protestant men take note – this Catholic broad has changed the game.
  • Film auteur George Lucas wanted to construct a movie studio on his land in his hometown of Marin County, California. Marin County, being absurdly wealthy, denied the zoning for such a building. After one billionaire fought a town full of millionaires, Lucas instead opted to develop a low-income housing development in order to spite the town. This is a first – a spite house that resulted in something nice instead of an oddly shaped home only of use to some douche who wants his apartment to be a replacement for a genuine personality.
  • When Westboro Baptist Church isn’t terrorizing the gays or the families of slain soldiers, they are huddled in their Legion of Doom in Topeka, Kansas (I’m sure the Topeka tourism department is sure to highlight this fact in their travel brochures). In 2013, a humanitarian charity purchased a now-significantly depreciated home directly across the street from the “church” and painted it in the rainbow pride flag colors. The house provides shelter to volunteers and a garden for the whole community. Look at that, ending on two bright notes! Who knew being petty could come with positive results?!

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