Technology, Not Spite Behind Little Compton’s Famous Tower
It's a structure that has been turning heads in Little Compton for over 120 years, but it turns out it's origin is not as sinister as some may say.
Dubbed the "Spite Tower" decades ago, this three story pumping house on the property at 2 Westport Harbor Road was reportedly built out of anger and designed as revenge against a former neighbor.
But as most town historians will tell you now, that's just not true. So where did this rumor come from?
The tower sits on the property of the Church home. Built in 1814 as a merchant house by Samuel Church, he died in 1816 and the home never served it's intended purpose.
Instead the property became the Church clan's family home, passing to a variety of different owners before being inherited by Claudia Church in 1905. It was Claudia who ordered construction of the tower and it was probably Claudia who really sparked the "spite" rumors.
When Claudia came to Little Compton in 1905, she was an unmarried, wealthy woman in her late 30s. Less than a year later, she was married to the town's young doctor, John G. Hathaway, stepmother to his two-year-old son John Seabury and turning her new home into one of the most modern in town.
She most definitely got people talking.
The thing they talked about most was the three-story pumping house she commissioned in order to bring running water to the home's new indoor plumbing.
Indoor plumbing in a small town like Little Compton was pretty rare at the turn of the century and chances are the Hathaways were one of the first families to install it. The tall tower was designed to pump water from deep underground into the house using gravity, something of a modern marvel at the time.
It's not hard to imagine that something so new, built by a woman who had been in town barely a year got the rumor mill turning. Soon people were saying a fight with their neighbors, the Manchesters, was the real reason the Hathaways built the tower.
The Manchesters had a home and store near the Church-Hathaway house. The sisters would signal to their brother as he worked, letting him know when it was time to walk home for lunch or dinner. The new tower reportedly blocked the Manchester's view of this signaling, making more work for the family at mealtimes.
For me, it's much harder to imagine someone building a three-story tower on their property to mess with someone's dinner plans and much easier to believe the first family with modern technology became the subject of town gossip.
However the rumor came about, it clearly was a good one. Because nearly 125 years later everyone around still knows this building as simply "Spite Tower."
Today no Churches live in the house at 2 Westport Harbor Road and the tower is no longer needed for the home's indoor plumbing. But the house still stands as it did in 1814 and tourists can rent it for vacations by the shore.
Keep scrolling to see inside this historic home and what it looks like today.