Monday, April 2, 2018

John Muir National Historical Site

On March 29th, I drove over to Martinez, CA after going to Rosie the Riveter and toured the John Muir mansion at the John Muir National Historical Site.  John Muir's home in Martinez is a iconic landmark with its 17-room mansion with 12-foot ceilings and transom windows.  The home contains historic documents and artifacts.  The rooms are large but simple and the attic was a treasure.  I loved seeing John Muir's writing room.  Many would think he would take the dark paneled masculine room, but John preferred the upstairs bedroom full of light to look out over the valley and orchard to write.
You see, John Muir married Louisa "Louie" Wanda Strentzel and into the fruit-ranching John Strentzel family when he was 42 years old.  He and his wife had two daughters, Annie Wanda and Helen (their history is interesting to read).  Two years after the marriage, his father-in-law John built the Italianate house on the hill.  The house was built in 1882 and when Mr. Strentzel died, Mrs. Strenzel asked the Muirs to move into the "big house" with her.  Upon the death of her parents, in 1897, the house passed to Louie and John's hands where they live in 1905 when Louie dies.  The house is then passed to her daughters Annie Wanda and Helen.  In 1912, John Muir buys the home from his daughters and in 1914 it is electrified with light but he passes away in December that year.  In 1915, Wanda and Helen sell the home.  It was John Muirs' house for the last 24 years of his life. 
Most people don't associate the man of the mountains and the man as the family man and fruit rancher in the same sentence but he thrived at both livelihoods.  Because John Muir lived on a Wisconsin farm, he knew the value of hard work, savvy businessman-ship and watched is father-in-law's horticultural experiments with interest.  John Muir was a remarkable man.
The home is simply stunning!  The 17-room house is a wood framed late Victorian (Italianate style) home that was built on a knoll with a gorgeous view of the Alhambra Valley.  The two story home has ceiling that are 12-foot with transoms over some doors.  It also has a basement, attic and cupola on the peak of the roof with a large bell.  The home has over 10,000 square feet of floor space with all the levels.
The first floor contains an entrance hall, formal parlor, library with a partially enclosed porch, family parlor, dining room with attached sun room or conservatory and kitchen.  Originally there were two bathrooms but one was removed in 1906.
The second floor has six bedrooms, two bathrooms.  Three bedrooms have been restored:  Muir's, the children's and the governess's rooms.  One large bedroom was converted to a study by John Muir and has been restored.  The remaining room contains Sierra Club material.
John Muir's Bedroom
John Muir's Office where he overlooked the hills and wrote.
The attic is accessible and a lot of furnishing are housed in the attic along with a small display of items.
You can also go up the stairs to the Cupola and overlook the valley.  You can even ring the bell if you'd like!
Originally, the house cost over $20,000 to build and furnish and included indoor plumbing and gas lighting!  There was a telephone in the house by 1885 and electricity in 1914.  Indoor plumbing was provided by rainwater collected from the roof or pumped from one of the three wells located near the house and stored in redwood tanks in the attic.  After 1890, John Muir added a three story addition to the back of the house that supports a large steel water tank in the attic.  There were originally seven imported Italian marble fireplaces but only three remain today.  The house has remained largely unaltered since Muir's time.  The National Park Service has been involved in an on-going restoration program on the house and grounds since 1964.  Period furniture and artifacts have been used as much as possible.  Before I left, as I was walking out the door, I noticed a crack in the transom window above the front door.  I asked the park ranger about it an he said that the 1944 Concord Port Chicago Explosion (next post) was so strong it broke nearly all the windows of the house.  This window didn't get repaired.  And, I also took a photo of the medallion.  The one in the main parlor was of plaster but the one in the entry room was of mahogany!
John Muir is one of my heros.  He is often called the father of national parks and forest reservations.  He urged people to experience wild nature so they would be inspired to defend it and save it.  He and I  have the same philosophy when it comes to nature.  I always tell Scott I want to live in the forest filled with trees and a lake.  John Muir's favorite park was Yosemite and so is mine.  John Muir lived in Yosemite area off and on for several years and my parents took me to Yosemite every summer for my growing up years.  He was the first president of the Sierra Club and played a role in the creation of the National Park Service.  While I was in college, I had a Sierra Club date calendar.  When I was in college I wanted to be a park ranger and he help create the park system.  We are two kindred souls!
The ground were also lovely.  I didn't photograph all of it, but here are some highlights including the Sequoia tree John planted.  It isn't as tall as it should be because the living conditions aren't perfect but it's still there.  Also his carriage house and a spring.
Before I finish this post, I wanted to say that John Muir was a fortunate man.  I would give anything to live in the mountains with a lake, river or spring.  It would be peaceful for me and something I've always wanted in my life. 

Here are some John Muir quotes that I LOVE and the book it comes from that John Muir wrote (he published 8 books):
"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storm their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves".  -- Our National Parks

"The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness".  --Wilderness World of John Muir

"After a whole day in the woods, we are already immortal".  -- John of the Mountains

"Therefore we are all, in some sense, mountaineers, and going to the mountains is going home".  --Steep Tails

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heel and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike".  --The Yosemite

"It's always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at one; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising.  Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and island, each in its turn as the round earth rolls".  --John of the Mountains

"But in every walk with Nature one received far more than he seeks".  --Steep Trails

(About Yosemite) "It is by far the grandest of all the special temple of Nature I was ever permitted to enter".  -- Letters to a Friend (July 26, 1868) [I couldn't agree more!]

"The sun shines not on us, but in us".  --John of the Mountains

"I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out until sundown, for going out I found, was really going in".  -- John of the Mountains
I forgot to mention that when I got to the house, there was a deer up at the home and started walking down to the spring.  Even in death, the animals in nature knew John Muir was a true friend.
As a note:  DO NOT bring a big rig to this location.  Parking in minimal.  You may want to park something like this at a local Wal-Mart parking lot and drive over...


  1. You make me want to travel to every where you visit. I am enjoying your photos and your posts.

    1. Thanks Jan. Just post a short one on the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail...( Tomorrow I'll finish up the Eugene O'Neill home tour and the Port Chicago Naval Magazine Explosion. Both short write-ups but lots of fun and interesting facts.