In this day and age, there are more than a few easy ways to use your home as a tool to antagonize someone who you don’t care for all that much.
Did a neighbor leave a note not-so-politely asking you to tone down your ghoulish Halloween display? Next year, add his or her name to a customized foam headstone and display it nice and close to the sidewalk.
Does your mother-in-law frequently complain about how unwieldy and unkempt your lush backyard veggie patch looks? Serve her salads that incorporate ingredients grown in said backyard veggie patch from here on out.
Engaged in a long-running neighborly squabble? Plant a view-obstructing revenge hedge — it’s a lot prettier and better for the environment than a boring old fence.
While the list of creative ways — some more passive-aggressive or involved than others — to elevate the blood pressure of a jerk neighbor or another unsavory character could go on and on, there’s nothing quite like constructing an entire house with the sole purpose of getting someone's proverbial goat.
True, it's excessive. But before the era of modern building codes and homeowner’s associations, erecting a so-called spite house was a more-common-than-you'd-think way to make someone’s life a living hell — or, at the very least, make them incredibly uncomfortable.
Usually designed to block views, limit access, create an eyesore or make another homeowner feel inferior while constantly reminding them of any perceived misdeeds, spite houses take on numerous shapes and forms. Some are off-kilter while others are incredibly — and very much intentionally — small. Other spite houses may appear to be “normal” but are strategically located in places that can be incredibly vexing to the person or persons they're meant to offend.
As for the reasons why someone might build a spite house, those too can vary wildly: familial money squabbles, run-of-the-mill neighborly rows and spats with local authorities have all served served as motivation behind why folks have invested in a habitable version of flipping the bird.
Below, you’ll find nine well-known spite houses — several of them designated historic landmarks — from coast to coast. Is there a built-to-gall dwelling in your neck of the woods?
Tyler-Spite House — Frederick, Maryland
In the historic burg of Frederick, Maryland, you’ll find a handsome 1814 home built not to irritate a single neighbor but the entire town government.
As the story goes, renowned ophthalmologist and landowner Dr. John Tyler was not pleased when learning of a plan to extend a road straight through one of his parcels. But he had a solution: Local law stated that roads could not be built on land where a building either already existed or was in the process of being built.
And so, in the dead of night, Tyler commenced work on a road-halting new residence — a new residence that the crafty doctor would ultimately never live in. The Los Angeles Times writes: “When the road crews arrived in the morning, they found a hole in the ground where their road was supposed to go and workmen were building a foundation. Sitting in a chair overlooking the work was the spiteful, self-satisfied Dr. John Tyler.”
In 1990, the stately Federal-style manse at 112 West Church St. was converted into an upmarket bed and breakfast property known as the Tyler-Spite House. Although the building has since change hands a couple times and is currently used as commercial office space, it has never been able to shake a reputation for being the site of ghostly going-ons: phantom footsteps, cold spots and the like.
Of course, things that go bump in the night are a near-compulsory attribute for historic B&Bs, particularly in a town as supernaturally active as Frederick. But one does have to wonder: Is the building haunted by Tyler himself? Is this a case of the dead spook-spiting the living?
Montlake Spite House — Seattle
Located a hop-skip-and-jump across the Montlake Bridge from the University of Washington, the Spanish Revival bungalow at 2022 24th Ave. E in Seattle doesn’t look all that odd at first glance. Sure, the single-story dwelling is daintier than most of the residences in this affluent lakeside nabe but there's little indication from the front facade that this was a house built to ruffle someone's proverbial feathers.
One look at the structure’s two ends — one 15 feet wide and the other spans a mere 55 inches — and you’ll understand why this address is so locally famous. Awkwardly shaped like a slice of pie, the 860-square-foot home has hit the market a couple of times over the last decade, most recently for a half million dollars in 2016. And each time it goes up for sale, there’s additional chatter about its mysterious origins.
What's known for certain is that the pie-house was built in 1925. But things get hazy after that. While some folks give credence to narratives involving vengeful absentee landowners and view-blocking payback, the most circulated backstory tells the tale of a scorned wife who was awarded the front yard of the house that she once shared with her husband as part of a divorce settlement. (He got to keep the house.) So she did what any recently divorced woman would do: She built a tiny sliver of a home in a tiny sliver of yard so that she could still be uncomfortably close to her ex. Of course, none of this — along with the fact that the kitchen is squeezed into the apex of a triangle — was mentioned in the last official listing, which refers to the property as a “unique condo alternative" and a "piece of Seattle history."
Skinny House — Boston
An act of brotherly spite: The crazy-skinny dwelling at 44 Hull St. is a popular spot to gawk along Boston's Freedom Trail. (Photo: ericodeg/flickr)
Located just a stone’s throw from the Old North Church and the crowd-drawing cannoli emporiums that line the Freedom Trial as it winds through Boston’s North End, you’ll find a four-story residence that holds the distinction of narrowest home in the city.
Even in a dense historic neighborhood jam-packed with buildings that are old and relatively petite in size, 44 Hull St. sticks out: The pale-green structure measures only 10 feet at its widest before tapering down in the rear to a smidge over 9 feet.
Although a small handful of local legends attempt to explain why the house is so narrow, the most popular tells the tale of two feuding brothers who inherited a parcel of land just opposite the Copps Hill Burying Ground from their deceased father. While one brother was off fighting in the Civil War, the other went ahead and built himself a home that took up most of their jointly inherited land. Feeling betrayed, the returning brother then built a tiny sliver of a home on what remaining space was left in order to block his land-bogarting bro’s light and views.
In 2017, Boston’s so-called Skinny House hit the market for the first time in a number of years. The sale price for the distinctive 1,166-square-foot abode? A cool $900,000. “People have lived in the house since 1884, so people have learned how to live in less than 300 square feet per floor,” listing agent Eric Shabshelowitz explained to the Boston Globe. “Every inch of this house is utilized; that’s one of the interesting things about it.” He adds: “I think for a unique property like this, there’s probably never a bad time to sell it. There is a lot of development happening in Boston, but there are no buildings being built like this with this amount of history.”
Plum Island Pink House — Newburyport, Massachusetts
Forlorn landmark: A group of local artists and activists have launched a fight to preserve the iconic Plum Island Pink House. (Photo: Support the Pink House/Facebook)
To adults, it’s eerily beautiful. To kids on the North Shore of Massachusetts, it’s one of those houses that can quicken pulses and trigger imaginations without much effort. For them, the Plum Island Pink House is the textbook definition of “scary and probably haunted abandoned house in the middle of nowhere.”
In reality, the story behind the lonely, enigmatic home isn’t all that ghastly. As legend has it, the cupola-topped structure was built in 1922 as part of an unusual — and poorly drafted — divorce agreement that stipulated the husband in the case was required to build his estranged wife an exact replica of the comfortable home that they shared in town as a married couple. But the agreement never specified where the home was to be built. And so, acting out of pure and unadulterated spite, the husband had the home constructed way out on the salt marsh — alone, isolated and cut off from the rest of town without running water or a neighbor for miles. Rude.
It’s unclear if the wife ever took up residence in the house. But as North Shore magazine explains, others did. From 1961 to 2011, it was the full-time — and later seasonal — home to the Stott family before being sold to the Parker River Wildlife Refuge after sitting on the market for a number of years. Since then, the weathered abode has been subject to both a New York Times-published love letter and a grass roots preservation effort to save it from demolition by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which aims to open up the 9-acre parcel to the public for environmental education purposes.
The USFWS is aware of the haunting rose-hued home's local icon status but also acknowledges that it has to go. But not if the impassioned members of Save the Pink House have anything to say about it.
“An empty house set in the landscape of such uncommon beauty certainly invites the imagination — and curiosity,” Rochelle Joseph, co-founder of group, tells North Shore. “Simply put: We tear things down too often. Meaningful things. Things with history."
Miracle House — Freeport, New York
Located just a couple of towns over from America’s most (allegedly) haunted piece of real estate, the Freeport Spite House — also known as the Miracle House — still stands on its own as one of the South Shore of Long Island’s more distinctive older homes. (Minus the biblical fly infestations and glowing-eyed wraiths.)
When this grand Victorian spread complete with seven bedrooms and a rocking chair-worthy wraparound porch hit the market in 2014 (asking price: $449,000), Newsday was quick to point out both its top selling points and the fact that it was built expressly to be the thorn in someone else's side. Not the ideal reason to commence construction of an otherwise lovely residential property but, hey, it happens. (And seemingly a lot in the 19th and early 20th centuries.)
In this case, developer John J. Randall of the Freeport Land Company wasn’t exactly a fan of the neat-and-orderly grid plan being laid out by a rival local developer. So in 1906, he erected a hulking home "virtually overnight" on an odd triangular plot in an effort to halt the extension of grid-following Lena Avenue, which now forks to the left instead of continuing straight. Randall — the so-called "Father of Freeport" was largely instrumental in transforming this once-sleepy oyster fishing outpost into a bustling summer resort serviced by the newly opened South Side Railroad — had left a weird and indelible mark where a right angle was supposed to be.
Equality House — Topeka, Kansas
Purists may not consider the highly visible rainbow-clad ranch house located at 1200 SW Orleans St. in Topeka to be a true spite house. After all, it wasn’t purpose-built as an architectural middle finger but, rather, decorated to be one later on.
Prior to 2013, there was nothing spiteful — or otherwise exceptional — about this modest wood-sided abode. And to be clear, "spite" is a strong word for the reason why the house — now known as Equality House — is all dolled up like a bag of Skittles. Like a standard spite house, there’s a whole lot of shade being thrown — in this case, at a specific neighbor directly across the way. However, it’s done without anger or malice given that Equality House serves as a “symbol of compassion, peace and positive change." Just think of it as being the same thing as the Care Bear Stare but with two bedrooms and a detached garage.
The neighbor in question is none other than the Westboro Baptist Church, the anti-LGBTQ hate group that pickets funerals armed with over-the-top loathsome signs. Equality House, which serves as the headquarters of nonprofit humanitarian organization Planting Peace, is a kind of permanent counter-protest to the WBC with its loud and very proud paint job acting as aesthetic kryptonite. To further troll the horrible neighbors, Planting Peace has hosted drag shows and gay weddings on the lawn. And thanks to the help of a generous donor, the organization purchased the home directly next door and painted it blue, pink and white — the colors of the Transgender Pride Flag — in 2016.
McCobb Spite House — Rockport, Maine
One of America’s better-known spite houses, the revenge-driven story of how Maine’s McCobb House came to be reads a bit like a 19th century soap opera.
In 1806, sea captain Thomas McCobb returned home to the town of Phippsburg only to find that he’d been betrayed by his own (second) stepmother who, in his absence, violated the written will of family patriarch, James McCobb, and claimed the expansive family homestead for her family, the Hills. Instead of packing his bags and never looking back, the ousted heir decided to build an even larger and grander Federal-style mansion right next door that would literally overshadow the family home co-opted by his stepmother and step-siblings. In an ironic twist, Thomas McCobb never married or produced any heirs — when he died, ownership of his colonial manse was transferred to the very people he built it to spite.
By the early 20th century, the McCobb spite had suffered through an extended period of decline and faced demolition. In 1925, Donald Dodge, a historic house fancier from Philadelphia, saved the home by relocating it 85 miles to the north via barge to its current locale at Deadman’s Point in the coastal town of Rockport. Once his stately new acquisition arrived in Rockport and sited on a new foundation, Dodge extended on the original structure and commissioned elaborate gardens to be built on the grounds, which have been recognized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation. The home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Old Spite House — Marblehead, Massachusetts
As Boston Magazine has noted, New England is teeming with houses built specifically to evoke ire and exasperate other people. As its name implies, the Old Spite House in Marblehead, Massachusetts, is largely believed to be one of the earliest examples of an American spite house.
Still standing at the intersection of Orne Street and Gas House Lane, the Old Spite House dates back to 1716 when — according to the most popular of several varying legends — it was built by local sailmaker Robert Wood for two (some versions claim three) squabbling brothers employed as local fishermen. As the story goes, the brothers detested each other so much that they took up residence in separate sections of the house, including in a 10-foot-wide addition that juts out of the main structure seemingly with the sole purpose of obstructing the other brother's views.
Another common spin on the story places Wood himself as the main occupant of the home. Apparently, he had inheritance-related beef (go figure) with his own brothers who lived in adjacent homes on Orne Street overlooking the harbor. When it came time to build his own home, he designed it in a way that intentionally blocked their cherished water views.
The Cake House — Gaylordsville, Connecticut
A small village in picturesque Litchfield County, Connecticut, Gaylordsville is a quiet and unassuming place short on odd or ostentatious structures that jump out at you. Well, with one notable exception.
The Gaylordsville Spite House — better known as the Cake House — is composed of a series of stacked boxes that bear a passing resemblance to a five-tier wedding cake. As the News Times wrote in 2009, the story behind the unusual structure is a rather sad and sordid one involving a Polish émigré named Jan Pol who built it as a “monument to injustice” after state authorities claimed custody of his teenage foster daughter and her newborn baby in the early 1960s. Local hearsay claimed that Pol himself was the father of the 15-year-old’s child although Pol went as far to self-publish a book to deny any such rumors. He never faced criminal charges.
“He wrote the book to dispel the nasty rumors,'' Gaylordsville historian Richard Kosier explained to the News Times. "Whether they are accurate or not, who's to say? You talk to 10 different people, and you get 10 different versions. That's how it is with history.” As for the Cake House, Kosier believes no one — Pol and his wife included — ever actually lived in it, and that it only served the function of an anger-borne architectural eyesore in an otherwise uniform New England town.