03/02/2015 - San Jose, CA

The Winchester Mystery House, one of California’s most unusual mansions, has intrigued visitors, scholars, and the media from around the world for over 100 years. Its combination of the beautiful and the unusual is a stirring legacy of one woman who was imaginative, creative, and even a bit eccentric.

Built by Sarah Winchester, widow of the Winchester Rifle fortune, the mansion offers a glimpse of an elegant, bygone era, a touch of mystery, and always the beauty of another time and place.

The mansion stands today as the “legacy” of Mrs. Winchester, who it is said had a strong belief in the occult. Legend has it, following the death of her only child and a few years later that of her husband, Mrs. Winchester attended a séance and heard the words that would change her life forever when a psychic suggested she move west, build a home, and as long as construction never stopped she would not die.

In 1884, Mrs. Winchester moved from New Haven to San Jose and started building what is now considered one of America’s most elegant mansions.

For nearly forty years, Mrs. Winchester had a staff of carpenters and gardeners working around the clock, always adding to her home which today extends over four acres and has more than 160 rooms filled with the unusual.

Both the beautiful and the strange serve as an intriguing contrast to visitors who marvel at a variety of sights they quickly observe from the grandeur of the home to the oddities found in almost every room. Suddenly, the casual visitor may notice such unusual sights as one door that stands eight feet high, while an adjacent door is only four feet tall; one room has four fireplaces in it while another has a spiral staircase that has steps only two inches high. There are rooms built within rooms, doors that lead nowhere, windows that look out onto blank walls.

At the same time there is far more to view in the mansion which ranks as a classic example of the elegance of the Queen Anne style of Victorian architecture. It houses one of the world’s foremost collections of antique art glass windows, doors inlaid with German silver and bronze, and rooms filled with the lost graciousness from another time.

The ballroom alone is filled with beauty from floor to ceiling: from the elegant gold and silver chandelier to the highly polished inlaid parquet ballroom floor.

At the same time the mystery of the home is found at every corner. As an example, throughout the mansion are chandeliers with 13 lights, ceilings with 13 panels, rooms with 13 windows, staircases with 13 steps and even 13 bathrooms.

The mansion is also surrounded by immaculate and elegantly groomed Victorian gardens filled with trees, plants, and shrubs from throughout the world.

Visitors who stroll the grounds will find them filled with 14,000 miniature boxwood hedges, large flower Carolina laurels and plants and flowers all designed to offer year-round color. There are numerous flowing fountains and quiet little nooks to be discovered.

Among the garden sights is the Monkey Puzzle Tree, native of Chile, one of the largest of its type in California; a Yew Tree, valued at over $20,000 that stands over twenty feet tall; award winning rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias planted in the gardens along with hundreds of colorful flowers, iris, hyacinth, and ranuculus.

There are also such things as the nine-foot Cherry Laurel hedge, which surrounds the front of the home, exactly as it was in Mrs. Winchester’s era and designed to prevent the curious passerby from looking into her home.

The “Behind-the-Scenes” tour, showing areas not seen by the public in over 75 years, illustrates what sustained the mansion including the stables, Fruit Drying Shed, Plumbers’ Workshop, Garage, and the Greenhouse.

Two historic museums found on the grounds include the Winchester Firearms Museum which houses one of the largest collections of Winchester Rifles in the United States and offers historic background on the classic rifle which was long hailed as “the Gun that Won the West.”

The Specialty Gifts & Antique Products Museum is filled with items of the 1920’s manufactured by the Winchester Company including sporting goods, household items, and carpentry tools. Visitors are amused at such antique items as roller skates, electric irons, food choppers, fishing equipment, turn-of-the-century baseball bats, and even an early day bicycle. The Specialty Gifts section features special and unique designer jewelry that can be purchased.

Mrs. Winchester would take delight in knowing that the daily work on her mansion continues even now where artisans and craftsmen, always restoring and refurbishing, continue working in the same precise detail as they did in Mrs. Winchester’s era even down to such small items as the wallpaper which recently had to be created and styled.

The home was built over 120 years ago at a cost of five million dollars. Today it is open daily, except Christmas, to visitors from around the world.

In tribute to Mrs. Winchester and her towering mansion the home is California State Historic Landmark #868, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is a San Jose City Landmark.

The mansion has been featured on major American and international television networks.

Special Events for 2015 include:

- 10th Annual San Jose Orchid Exposition (June 5th, 6th, and 7th)- Purchase beautiful and rare orchids from world renown orchid growers; attend Growing Skill Workshops by each of the experts; enjoy Santa Clara Valley's finest wine offerings, and see breathtaking orchid displays throughout the Winchester Mystery House mansion.

- Friday the 13th Flashlight Tour (Feb, Mar, Nov) - Given every Friday the 13th (three in 2015), tour the beautiful but bizarre Winchester Mystery House with only the moonlight and souvenir flashlight to guide you!

- Halloween Flashlight Tours (Select Evenings in October) - Tour the beautiful but bizarre Winchester Mystery House with only the moonlight and souvenir flashlight to guide you! Guests of all ages are invited to dress in costume and enjoy the complimentary added entertainment throughout the evening, including Trick or Treating in the Victorian Gardens on Halloween night!

- The Spirit of Christmas - Come celebrate the wonder of Christmas at Sarah Winchester’s fabulous 160-room mansion, elegantly decorated for the holidays! Open Thanksgiving - New Years. Enjoy dozens of trees & wreaths and over a thousand feet of garland gracing the fireplaces and stairways. The festive glow of 100,000 sparkling lights and the sounds of Christmas Music and Carolers warmly welcome you and filling the air and your heart.

Continue: Learn
Wander through 110 of the 160 rooms of this Victorian mansion, designed and built by the Winchester Rifle heiress. Tour the estate daily. Keep up to date on all the happenings, worldly and otherwise, only with the exclusive "13th Hour" newsletter.

Until the 1930's, the thirty-five-foot water tower on the grounds supported a 10,000 gallon storage tank – the main water supply for the estate. The elaborate water drainage system is still in use today. Miles of drainpipe run through the house into several collection basins. Then the water is carried to several cisterns around the house.