The Alexandria Spite House

The Alexandria Spite House

A tiny landmark on Queen Street in the Old Town district of Alexandria, Virginia (MAP), the “Hollensbury Spite House” is just a short bike ride over the Potomac River from downtown D.C.

In 1830, John Hollensbury’s home in Alexandria, was one of two homes directly bordering an alleyway.  Annoyed by the amount of horse-drawn wagon traffic, drunken loiterers and other undesirable elements, Hollensbury built a second, small house in the alley just to block access and prevent people from using the alleyway.

Measuring in at a mere 7 feet wide, only about 25 feet deep, and a whopping 325 square feet in two stories, it is more of an enclosed alley than a house.  The brick walls of the older houses on either side form the painted brick walls in the spite house’s living room.  In fact, the spite house living room still has gouges in it from wagon-wheel hubs when it was an  alley.

Another interesting aspect of the house is the cast-iron fire mark on the front.  At the time the house was built, it signified that the owner paid the local fire company to ensure that it would respond to protect the house if it caught fire, or was insured so that the fire company knew they would be rewarded for saving that home.  History records a number of occasions back then when firemen allowed unprotected or uninsured houses to burn.

There are a number of spite houses throughout the country, including the Georgetown spite house in D.C., and the contemporary “Skinny House” in nearby Arlington, but the Hollensbury house is one of the narrowest spite houses still in existence today.

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