This past weekend I found myself in San Jose, California. As far as Bay Area tourism is concerned, San Jose has always been the red-headed stepchild to more well-known destinations like San Francisco, the Napa Valley and Berkeley. However, during my stay I discovered a great reason to make the hour-long drive down to San Jose from San Francisco – the Winchester Mystery House.
This sprawling, ornate Victorian mansion sits just a short distance from the city’s downtown. Spanning a property of over 4 acres, the mansion contains more than 160 rooms, 40 bedrooms, 2 ballrooms and 3 elevators. But it’s not just pretty to look at – the Winchester Mansion boasts a mysterious history thanks to its late resident Sarah Winchester, heiress of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.
Sarah’s husband William Wirt Winchester amassed great wealth through the sale of his company’s most famous product – the Winchester rifle. The gun was responsible for many deaths in the late 1800’s, which weighed heavily upon Sarah. She was convinced she was being haunted by the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles. In an effort to confuse these spirits, Mrs. Winchester began construction on a massive estate near San Jose. From 1884 until her death in 1922, the house underwent 38 years of continuous, non-stop construction, taking on a confusing and labyrinth-like floor plan. Stairways were built that led to nowhere and many doors open onto blank walls. All of this a tribute to the madness and persistence of its reclusive owner, Sarah Winchester.
The next time you’re in the Bay Area, why not swing by San Jose for a visit? For what you paid for that bottle of Napa Cabernet you’ll get to experience a real piece of Americana and a house that truly has to be seen to be believed.