Formerly known as "Creepy-chusetts, Strange-chusetts".

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Old Spite House, Marblehead

Old Spite House, Marblehead

Long time no see. Now, I'm back.

Looking through the list of places I made during the last few months, the first thing I wanted to cover was a house called the "Old Spite House" in Marblehead.

As explained in my past post, "the Skinny House, Boston", a spite house is a structure that obstructs access to a view or light of certain residents, or it can be a symbolic structure that shows a defiance to certain groups; it's an intentional eye sore built to irritate some people. The reasons such a structure is built are usually due to land dispute among family members, but often described in a tone of legend-like ambiguity.
The Skinny House in Boston

The Old Spite House in Marblehead sits on the northeastern tip of Marblehead Neck. Driving through narrow, winding, and hilly streets of downtown Marblehead, I was wondering being a bus driver for the route would be a quite challenge. As the landscape of the town suggests, Marblehead is very old; the town was established as a plantation of Salem in 1629.

View from Fountain Park looking at Marblehead Light

Although it is not quite as old as the town itself, the Old Spite House is a 300 years old structure. The house is beautifully preserved and functioning as a private residence. The Old Spite House is adjacent to a publicly accessible beach called  Gas House Beach because the house was built by a sailmaker called Thomas Wood.

From Google Map

According to the sources found on the internet, the width of the house is 3m (10 ft) wide. But as you can see the above screenshot and picture, the entire house is quite sizable. So I assume the "spite" bit is the structure jotting out to the fork created by Orne Street and Gas House Lane.

It looks like an appendix and acting like one, I thought.

Then: 1912 post card, from Wikipedia
Now: 2012 (Wow, exactly 100 years later from the post card!)

So, what is the source of "spite" that made Mr.  Wood to build such an architectural appendix? Like its Boston counterpart, the origin of the Old Spite House has a flavor of a legend-like quality; nobody knows for sure.

View from Gas House Beach

One theory is that 2 brothers (or 3 depends on the source) who hated each other occupied different sections of the house. Other theory is the 10ft wide section functioned as a structure to block the view from other houses because the owner of the spite house was not happy with the land share he had received. So he decided to build the spite house to show his resentment to the other  family members who got better share.

Some sources say the spite house was built to block the view from a nearby tavern. The Fountain Inn -- which is famous for the romance between a poor maid Agnes Surriage and a British nobleman Charles Henry Frankland -- sits on the hill looking down the Spite House. Is that the entity who annoyed Mr. Wood? Was the tavern too noisy and not so "nice"?

Nobody knows for sure.

Locate the Old Spite House @ Google Map

Spite House, Wkipedia:
The Marblehead Driving Tour:


  1. Shuko -- good to see you blogging again!

  2. Marblehead Neck forms, geologically, a "spit", a piece of land that juts out into the sea. As the Spite House is at the end of this spit, might "Spite House" be a corruption of SPIT house? Given it's age, it was probably at one time the ONLY house in that area, the "house on the spit".

    - Gunnar

  3. The Old Spite House is not on Marblehead Neck. It's on the mainland side of Marblehead Harbor, at the fork of Orne Street and Gas House Lane, just at the end of Washington Street. It's at the bottom of Old Burial Hill and Redd's Pond. If you took the left side of the fork, that's where it would leave you.

  4. a correction: this house isn't on the neck - it's in Old Town.

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