Traveling through the Vermont countryside, especially in the northern parts of the state, you might notice some old farmhouse windows oriented at an odd angle. According to folklore, these so-called “witch windows” were tilted 45 degrees so that witches couldn’t fly through them into the house.
These 19th-century architectural anomalies, also known simply as “Vermont windows,” or “lazy windows” have blurred origins. Another, even grimmer explanation is that the crooked windows were used for getting a coffin outside the house more easily, hence they are also nicknamed “coffin windows.” That said, it’s arguable that sliding a coffin through a second-story window is not exactly less demanding than simply carrying it through the narrow staircases often found in these old homes.
From today’s perspective, it’s clear that there’s a much less mystical explanation for the curious slanted windows: frugality. The sloped windows were the most practical way of getting enough sunlight and fresh air inside the second floor rooms. The windows are usually wedged under the eaves right between the main building and an added wing of the house.
During the 19th century northern Vermont was very rural and dominated by small farming communities with limited or nonexistent access to things like factory-made mill work. If you were building a new house, you trekked to a hardware store and ordered things like mouldings, factory-built mantles, and windows from a catalog. The selections were limited and the best you could hope for was to find a premade and glazed window with a width that allowed you to fit the odd sloping space, which was a much better solution than trying to build something on your own. Vermont farmers have always been recognized for their common sense and ingenuity. It’s likely they also reused windows that didn’t fit above the new gable, so were installed at a diagonal to take full advantage of the sliver of available wall space.