The House that “Spite” Built

spite houseIf you ever find yourself in Virginia City, Nevada, take the tram tour and you will hear the story about the “Spite House.”

A resident of the city built a house no more than one foot away from another resident. His purpose? to block the beautiful view the first house had of the valley. It was a house that Spite built.

The house that Spite built in Virginia City, is not the only house of its type in our country. Another one was built in the North End of Boston, Massachusetts. In 1874, Two brothers inherited some land from their deceased father. While one brother was away to war, the other one built a large house leaving only a tiny strip of land to his brother. When the soldier brother returned home, he built a house 10.4 feet wide that tapers to a mere 9.25 feet in the rear. It blocks the sunlight and ruins the view from his brother’s house. To this day it is called “The Skinny House,” This is a house that Spite built.

A path between two homes in Alexandria, Virginia attracted an unwanted amount of horse-drawn wagon traffic and loiterers. The year was 1830. John Hollensbury built a two-story home using the existing brick walls of the adjacent homes for its sides to prevent people from using the alleyway. Yet another house built by Spite.

In the early 1900’s Charles Froling’s land was taken from him by the State of California to build a street. Mr. Froling wanted to erect his dream house on this inherited lot. To spite the city and an unsympathetic neighbor, he built a house 10 feet wide, 54 feet long and 20 feet high on the strip of land the State left for him.

Other houses are on record that have been built by Spite. Do a google search and you will can find them yourself. Click on the “images” search.

The irony of building a house out of spite for one’s neighbor is that they are very impractical. One source observes, “Because actually inhabiting such structures is usually a secondary goal at most, they often have strange and impractical layouts. Once the reason it was constructed or modified is publicized, locals begin referring to the house or commercial building as a spite house.” Such structures become bywords and proverbs, and their owners become known by their ill motives.

Israel became a byword to the nations surrounding them. The Lord forewarned through Moses, “And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you away” (Deuteronomy 28:37). Centuries later, Daniel would acknowledge in prayer, “…Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us” (Daniel 9:16).

There are a host of ways to become a byword. You can become one by allowing your actions to be governed by revenge like those who built “Spite Houses.” Or you can forsake God and serve other gods like Israel. Either way, your motives will be evident to by the things you build—whether it be a house or an idol.

In his famous speech at the Berlin Wall, President Reagan said, “Tear down this wall.” If we are guilty of erecting a spite house or any such edifice, we would do well to tear it down also.


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