The narrowest house in Old Town (and reportedly the narrowest house in the country) is located on the 500 block of Queen Street and is known as the Spite House. It gets way too much attention, given a relatively unknown competitor three blocks away from us on Prince. (Nonetheless, it made it into one of our previous posts . . .)
The place even rated a story in the New York Times, from which we’ve quoted its origins: “The house, 7 feet wide, about 25 feet deep and a whopping 325 square feet in two stories, is a tiny landmark on Queen Street in the Old Town district in Alexandria, Va., just across the Potomac from Washington. Structurally, it’s more of an enclosed alley than a house the brick walls of older houses on either side form the painted brick walls in the living room. It’s called the Spite House by some because John Hollensbury, the owner of one of the adjacent houses, built it in 1830 to keep horse-drawn wagons and loiterers out of his alley. Indeed, the brick walls of the living room have gouges from wagon-wheel hubs.”
The article cites the Spite House’s 7-foot width. It’s actually wider than that. How do we know? We freakin’ walked over and measured it one day. It’s 7′ 6.5″ wide.
We measured it because we were convinced the tiny house closer to us on Prince Street was actually narrower and should be getting the spotlight that was always the freakin’ Spite House. Here’s the Prince Street house:
It clocks in at 8′ 1.5″ wide. Wider than Hollensbury’s house by 7 inches. We’re surprised and annoyed, but numbers don’t lie.
Here they are, side by side:
Unlike the Spite House, the house on Prince wasn’t built out of spite, but as a means to generate rent revenue. According to our copy of “Historic Alexandria Virginia Street by Street: A Survey of Existing Early Buildings” the house was “built before 1883, when Samuel H. Janney bequeathed to his son, Henry, the rents accruing from ‘the three-story brick house and the small two-story brick house adjoining thereto on the northwest corner of Prince and Royal.'”
Although the little Prince (Street) wasn’t built out of spite, it does share an attribute with the Spite House that few other town houses in Old Town do – it’s an alley house. A house built in what previously was a narrow alley between two larger houses, and that may use one or both sides of the houses on either side of the alley, instead of having independent sides, separate from the other houses.
This was brought to our attention in this article last week by Sarah Dingman in Alexandria Living magazine, which identified this as one of only three other alley houses in Old Town, in addition to the Instagram favorite, the Spite House.
Another of the alley houses can be found 11 blocks west of the little guy above, on the 1400 block of Prince Street:
From the Alexandria Living article:
“It is unique from the other spite houses in that it is only one story tall. The home is a little more than 8-feet wide and has been incorporated into the home next to it.
The same color as the building to the east — the rear of 131 S. West St., which houses Christ House — it almost blends in. It also looks like a miniature replica of the buildings to its left. Note in the photo below the similar framing above the front door and window.
This alley house is the youngest alley house, built between 1891 and 1895 according to Sanborn Fire Insurance maps.”
The final alley house is a boutique shop on the 200 block of King, right in the middle of the shopping and restaurant district:
More from the Alexandria Living article:
“Only a couple blocks up from the water, it is commonly passed by but not noticed as one of the alley houses. [We can vouch for this.]
This alley house is relatively wide, measuring 11 feet wide (as measured by Old Town Home blog). The house was built around 1812.
In 1994 the residence, which was located above a then-Birkenstock shoe store, was a total of four rooms, including the bathroom and a kitchen, didn’t have space for a washing machine.”
Definitely puts our small house into perspective!