Beautiful Bottles: a Bottle House Primer

I’m not sure when I first heard about bottle houses but it must have been at least in elementary school.  My best friend Rhonda talked about a house made out of bottles, and I was so impressed that she was distantly related to the fellow who built it (see the bit about the Charlie Yelton house). Since then I have read lots about bottle houses and become more and more enamored as the years have passed. While working on this post my interest in bottle structures was rekindled. Instead of overloading my dream house post with bottle houses, I decided to write a whole other post all about the bottle houses I have read about.

And now for a bottle house history lesson!

The Tom Kelly Bottle House

From what I can find, it looks like the first notable bottle house was built by Tom Kelly in Rhyolite, Nevada in Death Valley. His was the largest of three such houses built in that mining town. I always suspected that building with bottles must have first developed out of need instead of kitsch or aesthetics. So it seems that since building materials were so scarce, and saloons were so plentiful (53 according to the website!!!) bottles were a resource to be used. Nearly 30,000 bottles were used in the construction of the three bedroom house. Mr. Kelly never even lived in the house he built–he raffled it off and tickets to win it were only $5. You can read the whole history of this house and see tons more pictures here, but first, two more pictures of seriously rad looking folks posing with the Death Valley houses.


A bottle house that didn’t fair as well as the Kelly House! (photo credit)


I can’t get over how much I love this shot. (photo credit)

The Charlie Yelton Bottle Houses

The Charlie Yelton bottle houses are located in the foothills of North Carolina in a place called Forest City. These houses are the ones I learned about from my best friend in elementary school! My friend Rhonda is a distant relative of Mr. Charlie Yelton. Unfortunately, his houses have not had anyone to take care of them and they are in pretty bad shape. There are a few accounts of the houses in regional publications including this neat account by Bruce Barry of the Shelby Star. The Charlotte Observer also ran a story on the houses, sometime in the 1970s. Scroll down for scans from that article.

The three photos below were taken in 2010 by Debra Jane Seltzer of Roadside Architecture. Her website is an absolute treasure trove of quirky roadside attractions from all over the United States.  I got special permission to use her photos in this post.  Please go check out her website to learn about all sorts of roadside gems–there may be some closer to you than you might think!

These next few pictures are scans from an article that appeared in the Charlotte Observer sometime in the 1970s. I’m on the hunt for the actual date so that I can find the rest of the story. To be continued, I suppose. Thanks to Rhonda’s uncle Howard (another cousin of the architect) for helping me find these scans.



Photo by John York for the Charlotte Observer

I think the shot of Charlie below is one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever seen.


Photos by John York for the Charlotte Observer

The Fresca & 7-Up Bottle Houses of Rockome Gardens

I literally can hardly get the words to tell you about these next bottle houses. The two play house sized structures were a popular tourist attraction in the 1960s at place called Rockome Gardens. Rockome is AN AMISH THEME PARK. Yes, an AMISH theme park!!!! I still can’t even. This website will tell you all you ever want to know about what a dang Amish theme park has to offer. SPOILER ALERT: buggy rides and corn husking.

The Fresca and 7-Up bottle houses are different from the other bottle houses in that the bottles act as decoration and are not structural. One of the things I find so beautiful about bottle houses is the light that the bottles let inside and obviously these houses don’t boast that feature. Still, I am smitten with the look of these buildings. Too bad they were both destroyed in 2005 during an attempt to move them for restoration. I would still road-trip there so hard. They had me at “Amish theme park”!!!


Fresca House detail, photo credit

The Mojave Rock Ranch Bottle House

Y’all.  This is a picture from a bottle house right next to the Joshua Tree National Park. You can even stay there since it’s an Air BnB!  I am so in love and cannot wait to get there someday. This property started out as a homestead in the 1930s but the current owners Gino Dreese and Troy Williams curated it into the masterpiece that it is today. Read more about the ranch and the rest of the jaw-dropping features of the property here. It is this bottle house that most recently sparked my interest in these special structures so I had to include it here.


via VRBO


via VRBO

So as to not let this post continue for days and days and 37 more pages I’m including more bottle house fun here in the form of extra links. I could write a post on each one of these houses but I’ll let you wander through the rabbit hole at your leisure.


Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew Bottle Temple, Sisaket province, Thailand   (here and here)

Charlie Stagg Bottle House & Studio, Vidor, Texas (here and here)

John J. Makinen Bottle House, Kaleva, Michigan (here and here)

Doc Hope Bottle House*, Hillsville, Virginia (here and here)

*This house is different because the butt of the bottles are on the inside, making the color display maybe the prettiest of all these houses. It also makes the outside of the house not so gorgeous but reminiscent of the “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” thing. This is another of my favorite bottle houses.

Bottle House, Hillsville, Virginia

Doc Hope Bottle House via the LOC


Vitreosity  is a blog about stained glass run by Tom Krepico.                                                      This link goes his page on bottle structures.

a Google map of bottle houses & walls around the world.

The Heineken beer bottle as a building block.


With ❤ from your history nerd blogger 🙂

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