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Our Valley and Beyond

Winchester home truly a mysterious marvel

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The Victorian gardens surrounding the house feature fountains, ponds, hedges and a variety of flowers that were imported from around the world.

SAN JOSE, CALIF. - Dead end stairways, doors that open into walls and windows in the floor are just a few of the odd architectural marvels to be seen at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, Calif.

The 160-room home was under construction for more than 38 years by Winchester Rifle heiress Sarah L. Winchester. She started the construction project in 1884 after the deaths of her husband and infant daughter. Winchester sought the advise of a psychic after the deaths, and was told she must maintain construction on a home the rest of her life to appease the spirits of those killed by her husband's rifles.

The cost to construct the house, which was completely designed by Winchester, was $5.5 million.

Unique in its amenities, the house features one of the first showers invented, as well as a unique stair system. The "easier riser" stairs are less than half the height of a normal step, which allowed Winchester, who had Rheumatoid arthritis, to move around the home freely. Many of the passages in the home are narrow in height and width because they were created especially for Winchester, who was a small woman.

A unique feature in one of the home's six kitchens are windows in the ceiling. The windows could be opened from the room above. Winchester used the windows to spy on her servants, but the windows also provided a unique feature in that they allowed heat to rise and escape from the kitchen, providing a cooling system for the room.

Visitors to the home can tour the once spectacular crystal bedroom, which once sparkled in the sunlight. Most of the sparkle is gone, destroyed by an earthquake, but the bones of the once shimmering room still reveal some of its previous glory. Winchester was able to create the room by applying crushed mica to the walls.

After Winchester's death, the furniture in the home was sold, but the house was saved and is now on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as being a California Registered Landmark.

The home features 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, 40 stairways, 47 fireplaces, 17 chimneys and 13 bathrooms.

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