The Silicon Valley is replete with intriguing people and history and one of its most fascinating residents was Sarah Winchester, the wealthy and eccentric widow of William Wirt Winchester of Winchester Rifle fame. For 38 years, Sarah kept up nonstop construction of her San Jose home, known today as the Winchester Mystery House. Because of its connection with the supernatural, guided flashlight tours of the massive mansion are especially popular around Halloween. If you live in Redwood City or beyond and haven’t yet seen this astounding mansion, it is well worth the short drive.
How the Winchester Mystery House Came To Be
Sarah Pardee married William Winchester in 1862. William was the treasurer of Winchester Repeating Arms Company run by his father, Oliver Fisher Winchester. Sarah and William lived in Connecticut and were happily married but their relationship was one of tragedy. In 1866, their only child, Annie, died at five weeks old, throwing Sarah into a deep depression, which was amplified when 15 years later, William passed away from tuberculosis. Bereft, Sarah was rumored to have sought the help of spiritualists. Legend has it that a Boston medium informed her that her family and her $20 million fortune were being haunted by the spirits of all those who’d been killed by Winchester firearms. Supposedly, the medium told Mrs. Winchester that to appease these angry spirits, she was to move to the West coast and ‘build a great house for them’. Whether that was truly her motivation or she just needed a change of venue and a hobby to occupy her time, Sarah moved to the Santa Clara Valley, purchased a small, 8-room farmhouse in 1884 and immediately began construction.
Carpenters and builders worked in shifts day in and day out constructing the mansion, guided by evening séances Sarah held to seek direction from the spirits on how to proceed with their grand house. By 1900, the small, unfinished dwelling had been transformed into a 7-story mansion until the 1906 earthquake reduced it to four.
It is believed that between 500 and 600 rooms were built, but today only 160 remain. It was not uncommon for a room to completed and then be torn out or remodeled soon after. Miles of maze-like hallways, dead-end stairways, secret passages (to confuse stalking spirits) and doors leading nowhere are just a few of the inexplicable things to be found in the Winchester Mystery House. Whether this was done intentionally to perplex the malicious spirits or simply because there was no established building plan, no one knows.
The rooms that didn’t undergo alteration were ornamented with Tiffany glass windows, rare woodworking and other exquisite décor. One of the most impressive features of the house is the parquet floor. One craftsman spent an entire 33 years installing, demolishing and reinstalling the mosaic design flooring made from rosewood, teak, mahogany and other woods.
Today, the privately owned Queen Anne Style Victorian mansion serves as a tourist attraction. It is recognized for its massive size along with its architectural curiosities, and complete and utter lack of any master building plan (other tha. It is a designated California historical landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Located at 525 South Winchester Boulevard in San Jose across from Santana Row, the Winchester Mystery House’s history, lore and bizarre yet beautiful attributes make it a very intriguing place to visit. In keeping with its spiritual roots, flashlight tours are held around Halloween and on Friday the 13th. More information about ‘the house that spirits built’ can be found on the Winchester Mystery House website.