While the Winchester Mystery House is famous for being a haunted piece of history – infamously so at times – many Bay Area locals fail to recognize the role Sarah Winchester and her home played in local history.
“It’s such a wonderful piece of Santa Clara history, Santa Clara Valley history, California history,” said Janan Boehme, the Winchester Mystery House historian and a Santa Clara native. “It’s pretty amazing that it’s still here honestly and that it didn’t get torn down and, you know, subdivided.”
For Boehme, the house itself is a testament to Sarah Winchester and her impact on the Santa Clara Valley.
“She was really intelligent. She was quite a businesswoman, actually,” said Boehme. “You read her letters to her lawyer and she asked very intelligent questions. She’s clearly very well-informed. And she knew how to take care of business.
“Most important, she was actually providing jobs for people who were supporting families,” continued Boehme. “I think it was one of the ways that she did good with her inheritance. So, she had people living here with her on the estate. She would give them homes, and they could raise their families.”
Boehme says Winchester’s connection to neighboring cities like Santa Clara can’t be overlooked either.
“She did a lot of business with Santa Clara. A lot of her mail, probably the bulk of her mail, came through Santa Clara,” said Boehme. “A lot of times she would have things shipped here like furniture or marble for her house and it would come down the bay into Alviso and come through Santa Clara. She bought a lot of her wood from [Pacific Manufacturing Company] in Santa Clara. That’s where I think she mainly bought her wood supplies.”
This December, the Winchester Mystery House will celebrate Sarah Winchester and the holidays with Winchester-themed Christmas trees. Boehme will lead three guided tours and talk about Sarah’s life in the Valley while helping visitors celebrate Christmas in a Victorian home during Sarah’s time.
“Some people think that the custom of Christmas trees is very old. It’s not relatively that old. A lot of these things came to pass around the time that Sarah was growing up,” said Boehme.
“If you haven’t been here in a while, you really should come out and see. We’ve done a lot of work on various things, the gardens,” continued Boehme. “Part of my job is restoring rooms in the house. Before the pandemic, we did the two dining ones [rooms], the old ones up at the front of the house that had been left in such terrible shape. They’re beautiful now.”
Ultimately, Boehme believes the work that’s been done at the house and these holiday tours would make Winchester proud.
“She took care of her people. They were important to her. She was a philanthropist in many quiet ways,” said Boehme. “I think she’d really love the fact that people are still making a living because of what she built here. You know, all these years people have had jobs here and worked here because of what she left. Yeah, I think that she would be very happy about that.”