A witch window is a standard window installed at an angle on the gable end of a home. They’re most notably found in Vermont and areas of New England. Other names for these windows include the Vermont window, coffin window, casket window, and Vermont witch window.
What a Witch Window Looks Like
Witch windows are double-hung sash windows installed at a diagonal on the gable end of a roof. You often see them on the side of a home with additions or dormers.
The History of Witch Windows
Witch windows originated in 19th-century Vermont, installed on farmhouses from the era. While there’s some debate, folklore states that homeowners installed these awkward windows to prevent witches from entering the house. They believed a witch’s broomstick couldn’t make it through the 45-degree angle. Since the most notable witch trials in the United States happened in New England, it’s believable that Vermonters were superstitious with a fear of witchery, helping the “witch window” theory spread.
Another speculation is that since staircases in these old houses are so narrow, homeowners used the witch window to remove coffins from the second floor – hence the name coffin window or casket window.
While tales of witches and coffins are fascinating (and may hold some truth), the most agreeable reason for these windows is the creative use of resources.
Many historians believe witch windows are simply a part of vernacular Vermont architecture. During this era, people used up all available resources, and the slope on the gable end of the roof provided a prime spot to add another window. Also, since there was no electricity at the time, extra windows meant more natural light.
While you can still find witch windows on old New England farmhouses, you won’t spot them on new construction.