Sarah Winchester was the widow of William Winchester, the heir to the Winchester fortune, a fortune that came with a cost. The Winchester repeating riffle. This never before seen weapon made its debut in 1866. Its unique feature, for the time, was it did not have to be reloaded after each shot. Instead a simple pull of the trigger caused many rounds to fire one after another. This weapon was said to have “won” the west.
The Winchester Repeating Rifle Company was a family business; William was the treasurer up until his death in 1881. At this point Sarah had outlived her daughter, Annie who died at 6 weeks old in 1866 and now her husband. Left alone in Connecticut with a massive fortune Sarah turned to spiritualism which was a common practice of the time. Her spiritualist guided her to move to west. Sarah was told the spirits of the people killed by the Winchester Rifle were angry with her and the family.
Sarah did as instructed, she moved to San Jose, bought a Victorian farm house, and began to build. She began to build with no blueprints to follow; construction on the Victorian mansion which began as a simply 2 room farm house, lasted day and night for 40 years. There are stairs that lead to no where, doors that open to brick walls, and cabinets that open to other rooms. The number 13 can be seen throughout the house. 13 window panes, 13 pillars, 13 drains in a sink, 13 coat hangers in a closet. The mansion eventually reached 7 floors, 10,000 windows, and 2,000 doors. With all of the twist and turns the house that make no sense, Sarah added state of the art components to the house. One of the first hydro Otis Elevators, a greenhouse on the second floor with removable hard wood to allow pots to drain into the garden below and its believed the floor boards where also heated for the chilly winter nights, which was uncommon for the time.
Sarah was one of the wealthiest women of her time. She held 50% of the Winchester Rifle Company and $20 million (equivalent to $519,241,379 in 2018) from her husbands estate. Even though Sarah never had to work, she used her new property to create a business. The acres around the Winchester Mansion were turned into an orchard. The fruits were dried, canned, sold. It’s said that she made more money with this business than off her inheritance. This thriving business and ever expanding house needed employees. The house had 24/7 staff which either lived in the house or if they had a family of their own Sarah purchased a home for them. She provided all meals for the employees and paid them a fair wage. What she asked in return was nothing more than pure perfection.
She was a business woman first and foremost with a reputation of eccentricity. She was well educated, well traveled, and was held in high standing in the social elite. She came from a background of architects, and was even named after one. Mental illness ran in the family which could answer a lot of questions about Sarah’s unique building style and character. We will never know why Sarah kept building, used the number 13 throughout the house, and left the home to no one when she died.
Her niece go the money and the heirlooms but the house stood without an owner for many years, until a private investor purchased the property and made it into what it is today. Construction is still happening on the house, repairs are being made daily, and rooms are still being discovered. Even after Sarah’s death the house keeps growing.