Known colloquially as the “Winchester Mystery House,” the former residence located in San Jose, California, is classified as a historic landmark in the state, featured prominently on the National Register of Historic Places. More than just an achievement of architectural ingenuity and design, the house’s sprawling design, maze-like structure, and at times haphazard construction hint at its rich and mysterious history. People often wonder can you get a glimpse of the inside?
The Winchester Mystery House is privately owned and open to the public. It offers various tour options for individuals and groups hoping to experience the many facets of the estate’s construction and history. Seasonal tours are also available for those interested in a more eery experience.
The Winchester House is unique not only in its size and history but also in the breadth of experiences it offers. Few homes feature such a diversity of architectural designs that blend so seamlessly within an integrated structure, and even fewer can claim to have undergone renovation, much less expansion from the moment of purchase to the moment of its owner’s demise.
With all that in mind, The Winchester House is an experience without parallel for history, strange architecture, and the unusual. If things like that interest you, keep reading!
Touring the Famous Winchester House
Located at 525 S Winchester Blvd, San Jose, CA, the Winchester House is open to visitors according to the following schedule:
- Wednesday/Thursday: 10 am to 5 pm
- Friday-Sunday: 11 am to 4 pm
What are the Tour Packages?
The Winchester House offers two daily tour packages, which can be bundled together. The first is the Mansion Tour, which features 110 of the structure’s 160 total rooms. With this tour, visitors will get a general picture of the house’s many beauties and oddities. It runs for one hour and five minutes and ranges from $20-$39.
The second is the Explore More Tour, which provides visitors an opportunity to see never-before-seen sections of the House, which have only recently been opened to public viewing. It runs for one hour and ten minutes and ranges from $20-$39.
Private tours are also an alternative for groups of fifteen or more people and must be planned in advance.
What Will You See on the Tour?
The tours will feature an exploration of the mansion’s design, history, and local legends. Visitors will be able to marvel at not only the American Queen Anne architectural style of the exterior but also at the interior’s Aestheticism design.
Additionally, the house contains many of the original furniture pieces and decorations, treating guests to a look into the daily lives of America’s wealthiest at the start of the 20th century. Not to mention, it is all led by world-class tour guides that keep the mystery alive, encouraging questions and offering interesting answers at every turn.
Wondering if taking photos is allowed? Guests are allowed to take pictures during the tour, provided it is still daylight for safety reasons. For other questions, check out their FAQ page. Additionally, there are bathrooms available for guests on-site.
Are the Tours Handicap Accessible?
Due to the nature of the house and its construction, the Winchester House is not handicap accessible. However, The Winchester Mystery House official website does provide two digital-tour options.
The first is the Video Access Tour, a 41-minute-long documentary on the house and its history. The price is $5.99 to rent, $13.99 to buy. The second option is the Immersive 360 Tour. This tour offers guests the ability to explore the mansion and its many mysteries through the comfort of their computer screen. The cost is $8.99
Is the Garden Included in the Tour Package?
The garden has traditionally been free for visitors to explore. However, due to the current Santa Clara County guidelines limiting interior tours, the Garden Tour has been revamped to feature 20 stops along a self-guided tour.
The cost of the Garden Tour is $20, and tickets must be purchased online in advance, as occupancy is limited. The garden is available for tour on Saturday and Sunday, opening at 10 am with the last entry at 3 pm, before officially closing at 4 pm.
Can You Stay Overnight at the Winchester Mystery House?
This question gets asked quite often. And lots of people want to do it. However, the Winchester House is not a hotel, and unfortunately, there is no opportunity to spend the night in the location.
Bay Area Answers Fun Fact: The Winchester Mystery House cost 5 million dollars to build in 1923, which converts to 71 million dollars now. The house features 2,000 doors and 10,000 windows.
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Who Owned the Winchester House?
The Winchester House was originally purchased, in an unfinished state, by Sarah Lockwood Winchester in 1884. Ms. Winchester was the widow of William Wirt Winchester of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, one of the most prominent firearm manufacturers in the US at the time.
Mr. Winchester’s death from tuberculosis in 1881 had followed the death of their only child several years prior, leaving Sarah Winchester in immense grief and with an incredible fortune and fifty-percent ownership in the company.
It was shortly after these misfortunes that she left her home in New Haven, Connecticut, for the sunny valleys of San Jose and the Winchester Estate.
However, while history tells us when Sarah Winchester began construction on her new home, legend details why that work might have continued, somewhat ceaselessly, from its inception until she died in 1922.
History and Legend of the Winchester House
Following the death of her loved ones, it is said Sarah Winchester sought the advice of a local medium to explain these tragic events. The medium explained that her family was cursed, haunted by the souls of those Native Americans killed by Winchester repeating rifles during the brutal wars in the West and those soldiers killed by the guns during the Civil War. At the time, Winchester rifles were incredibly popular and even referred to as “the gun that won the west.“
The medium went on to say that this meant an incredible quantity of angry spirits were out for revenge and, even after taking the life of her husband and daughter, would still be out for vengeance. The medium suggested drastic action to delay this inevitable fate.
To hide from the spirits, Sarah Winchester was to begin construction of a new house and never stop construction. Over her lifetime, the Winchester house would grow from a modest farmhouse into a sprawling, at times convoluted, mansion. It featured differing, perhaps clashing, architectural styles and an unpredictable layout, owing to its lack of central planning.
There are doors that go nowhere, doors that lead to long drops, windows with no source of light, windows that look into other rooms, stairs that rise into ceilings, and secret passages littered throughout the estate.
Some say these strange features are quirks of endless renovations without proper planning, while others claim it was done with intention, a way to confuse and baffle the spirits who might haunt her. It is said that Sarah Winchester herself refused to create a routine in the home, sleeping in different rooms and employing different routes (as well as secret passages), which was supposed to keep the spirits confused.
Legends End and the Future Begins
Ultimately, The Winchester House grew to be a massive seven-story structure, but a 1906 earthquake significantly damaged the upper levels, causing it to be reduced to four stories. This event was said to be a warning that the home was getting too close to being finished. So, Sarah Winchester expanded outward rather than upward from then on, though some of the damage from that earthquake can still be seen today.
Further, this expansion would continue until Sarah Winchester died in 1922 when it is said construction halted immediately, never to be resumed again in any significant fashion.
After that time, John and Mayme Brown leased the Winchester House for ten years and subsequently opened it to the public for tourism in 1923. The couple later purchased the house, and it is currently owned by Winchester Investments LLC, a private company representing the descendants of the Brown family.
What Else is There to See?
In addition to the estate itself, the Winchester Mystery House features an antique products museum, which features an expansive collection of Winchester products and advertisements. The exhibition displays the weapons of Winchester and the many consumer goods the company produced in the wake of WWI, as the demand for weapons of war subsided.
Beyond that, the Mercantile is the estate’s gift shop, featuring a wide range of products from local artisans, such as candles, textiles, and home décor, as well as many unique and themed items related to the estate’s history and owner.
It should be noted that there isn’t a restaurant on the estate grounds, only a number of fantastic local eateries nearby. However, to work up an appetite, guests can test their skills at an ax-throwing range featured in the stables, where an ax-throwing expert provides training.
Before You Go
Whether you are interested in details of history, architecture, art, or mystery, the Winchester House will offer a truly unique and memorable experience. Given the estate’s central location, it is easy to get to and well within reach of the many amenities and attractions San Jose has to offer. Perhaps because of this, the Winchester House is also exceptionally busy.
Due to these factors, it is best to plan your trip in advance, and to buy tickets beforehand, as tickets at the door can sometimes result in a lengthy wait. But even then, the chance to take in such a unique piece of American history and legend is perhaps worth the wait.