If you look at American history, it was president Theodore Roosevelt who traveled west to see every natural wonder that he could in this part of the United States. Upon visiting places such as Montana, Wyoming up to California, and fell in love with the beautiful landscape the west is famous for. He was one of the historical figures in American history who advocated the preservation and conservation of places such as Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon. But Theodore Roosevelt could not have done all this alone. He would need help. He needed people passionate about saving and conserving the national beauty of this country’s landscape. One of these people was naturalist and conservationist – a Scot named John Muir living in California.
John Muir left his native home of Scotland to escape the deadly potato famine in 1849. He traveled extensively in Canada and the United States by foot, train and boat ultimately ending up in Yosemite in 1868. He started writing about conservation, continued studying trees, traveled Alaska three times before settling in the Alhambra Valley in the town of Martinez managing the farm of his wife Louise’s family. The family home in Martinez still stands today now called John Muir Historic Site.
I visited John Muir’s Historic House and Farm in late December when Christmas decorations were still up and the fruit trees still in the property was baron. The collection of fruit trees in the farm – peach, olives, pomegranate, apricot, grape, pear, fig and orange trees were once part of a larger farm during John Muir’s days as the manager of this family estate. This large working farm was owned by John Strenzel, the father of Louise Wanda Strenzel. Louie as she was often called married John Muir in 1880. It was here where they raised their family with daughters Helen (born in 1886) and Annie (born in 1881) grew up. In 1882, John Strenzel built the white Italianate villa you see on the property today. After the death of Dr. Strenzel, John Muir made improvements in the estate including adding a water tower hidden at the back of the house. When the 1906 earthquake hit San Francisco, the estate and house was not spared. Muir made renovation and repairs particularly on the first floor, which explains why they are different styles between the old living room and the family and dining rooms.
The property was not as large as it once was. The farm used to cover acres of land around the house with various trees and other agricultural products. But today, it is reduced to about five to six acres of land, the rest is now part of the town of Martinez with residential homes, commercial real estate and part of Highway 4. The town of Martinez is a quiet community about an hour east of San Francisco. Today, the John Muir Historic Site is owned and managed by the National Park Services. Admission is free to the public however parking is limited.
John Muir is a man who is more comfortable amongst Mother Nature’s land and bounty. It was said that he lived in Yosemite National Park for five years to study the landscape and to work as a shepherd, sawyer and guide. He recorded all the things he saw and studied in his journals and made sketches. He called sections of Yosemite the “Mountain mansions.” He was one of the people who advocated conserving places like Yosemite. We should all be thankful for the efforts that the US were able to keep these beautiful landscapes as it was.