The old homes of Capitol Hill have more than a few scary stories rattling around inside. Some appear legendarily spooky. So it’s not surprising to sometimes hear tales of one of the spookiest of all American families having been part of the amazing Seattle history found in the houses surrounding the Hill’s Volunteer Park. Some say the legendary Winchester family had a home on the edges of Volunteer Park.
Here is what we learned about the Winchester House of Capitol Hill — like most good ghost tales, the legend is nothing more than a mixture of confusion, fear and a good story.
The tales of the Winchesters of Capitol Hill seems so plausible and puts together all kinds of possible theories — for instance, that a Winchester family related to the gun family lived at least part time in Seattle, that they had a “summer home”, and, by extension, that these were relatives of the very famous Winchester House in San Jose, California built between 1884 – 1922 by Sarah Winchester, daughter-in-law and heir to half the fortune of Oliver Fisher Winchester who made a fortune from developing the Winchester repeating rifle.
Mrs. Winchester died in September of 1922, leaving bequests to her sister, nieces and nephews. If you want to know more, the Winchester House has a quite extensive web site. (Much better, though, to go visit. It’s quite a place!)
So were there Winchesters in Seattle who had a house across from Volunteer Park? I couldn’t find evidence of any with the name Winchester. The Capitol Hill plat, filed by James A. Moore in 1901 (this was the first of several) was located on a homestead that had remained empty and in private hands for 50 years. So development of any kind had not occurred east of 15th Avenue N (now 15th Ave. E) long the park edge until after 1901. The Broadway access to Volunteer Park was somehow made possible to bury Doc Maynard in March of 1873 – his was the first grave in the new Masonic cemetery where Volunteer Park now exists – but they transported his body in a horse-drawn wagon. It was a long time later that the mansions along the park to the west, and along Prospect Avenue to the south of the park were built.
I checked the Seattle Street Directories (Polks) in the Seattle Public Library for the years 1890, 1904, 1914, 1916, 1920, 1925, 1930, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1960, and 1970. Somewhere around 1920, the Winchester Apartments were built at 605 E. Denny Way. There were families and Individuals with the last name Winchester (not very many, as it happens) who lived in Seattle for a while, but none of them lived on Capitol Hill. The Baist map, plate 11 of 1912, which Paul Dorpat had given web space to, bless him, indicates that by 1912 the 15th Avenue side of the park was built out in rather similarly shaped, wood frame houses, most of them sizeable.
The mansions along 14th Avenue N — we call it Millionaires Row — were mostly wood frame also, and many of them were there. Nothing that remotely looks like a “summer residence” is shown. In 1935, for the first time, there is a listing for the Winchester Repeating Arms Co.. George H. Hambright was district sales manager, but operated out of his home on 32 Avenue S. By 1940, the company had a downtown address and it continued to be listed as a company through 1960 (bought out by Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation in the 1950s).
Nope. No Winchester family on Capitol Hill.
However, on Sunday, January 27, 2002, ABC-television aired a new Stephen King screenplay introducing a haunted house called Rose Red – a fictional turn-of-the-century Seattle mansion. Rose Red was inspired by the Winchester Mansion in San Jose. The house used for the set of this show is called Thornewood Castle in Lakewood (Tacoma), and appears to have a history of it’s own which may indicate that it is haunted. An enormous number of people seem to have been convinced that Rose Red existed historically and was in Seattle. When I inquired of Charlette LeFevre of the Seattle Museum of the Mysteries whether she had ever heard of this possibility, she said that she “hadn’t heard anything about a Winchester house” and also noted that the museum had an original copy of the Rose Red screen play “and the fictional house isn’t even close to Volunteer Park”.
The Winchester House of Capitol Hill, then, is nothing more than an urban ghost story woven out of the atmosphere surrounding Volunteer Park, the Stephen King fiction, and maybe a little wishful thinking.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any haunted houses around Volunteer Park, necessarily. During the 1970s, my personal candidate was the old E. G. Moore mansion at 807 14th Avenue E. The pictures on this post catch it in its spooky glory. But it used to be even spookier. Back then, it was a dirty pile of grey stone surrounded by a few dilapidated plants and hosting a really beautiful spiderweb design round window eye. We never saw people there, and so it was really quite spooky.
More from the CHS Hill-oween archives:
- Tale of the spooky business on 19th Ave E
- Paranormal Investigative Unit Capitol Hill Office reports
- 5 places to see a ghost on Capitol Hill
- 2010 Capitol Hill Halloween pictures
- Collectible CHS masks: Dan Savage | Bertha Landes | 2011 edition coming soon!
- Lake View Cemetery photo tour
Dotty DeCoster is a regular contributor to CHS on matters of Hill history.