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The John Muir home sits amongst the trees.
The John Muir home in Martinez, California.
 
 

The John Muir House

The John Muir House was built in 1882 by Dr. John Strentzel, John Muir's father-in-law. When Dr.Strentzel died in 1890, Mrs. Strentzel invited the Muirs to move into the "big house" with her. This was to be John Muir's home for the last 24 years of his life.

The "big house" is a 17-room wood frame mansion of the late Victorian period (Italianate style) built on a knoll with a commanding view of Alhambra Valley. It is a two story structure with a full basement and attic, a cupola on the peak of the roof, 12-foot high ceilings in the rooms, and over 10,000 square feet of floor space. The house was designed by architects Wolfe and Son of San Francisco and built by contractors Sylvester and Langabee of the same city.

The first floor contains an entrance hall, formal parlor, library with partially enclosed porch, family parlor, dining room with attached conservatory, and a kitchen. There were originally two water closets, one having been removed by John Muir in 1906.

The second floor has six bedrooms, one water closet and one bathroom. Three bedrooms have been restored: Muir's, the children's and the governess'. One large bedroom was converted to a study by John Muir and has been restored as such. The remaining room contains Sierra Club material.

The house cost over $20,000 to build and furnish, and included such conveniences as indoor plumbing and gas lighting. There was a telephone in the house as early as 1885. John Muir had an electrical system installed just before his death in 1914.

Water for the 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. Any overflow went to a large brick cistern under the kitchen floor. Sometime 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 of which only three remain. Two others were converted to brick and two were removed. The family parlor fireplace is a large mission style which Muir had built after the original fireplace was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. Muir also opened up the two first floor parlors with large archways and a smaller one into the dining room during house repairs.

The house has remained largely unaltered structurally since Muir's time.The National Park Service has been involved in an on-going restoration program on the house and surrounding grounds since the house was declared a National Historic Site in 1964. Period furniture and artifacts have been used whenever possible, with reproduction wall and floor coverings and paintings to reflect the historic period.

 
 

Muir and Today's National Park System

Muir's love for wild nature aided the creation of several national parks. Our National Parks (1901), a collection of articles he wrote for the Atlantis Monthly about Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia, and General Grant (now part of Kind's Canyon) national parks, is still in print.
 

Muir's Conservation Legacy Lives On

"Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation?" John Muir asked. His remarkable vision – that all creation is one community made up of equal companions – still inspires people to love nature and to work to save wildlands and wildlife. Muir is often called the father of national parks and forest reservations, forerunners of national forests. Muir urged people to experience wild nature so they would be inspired to defend it and save it.

At the University of Wisconsin, Muir read Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau on nature. He studied Louis Agassiz's new geology and Asa Gray's plant science. Later, he used these tools to achieve success in conservation. Muir arrived in California in 1868. He lived in the Yosemite area of the southern Sierra Range off and on for several years, and studied its botany and geology. In 1871, in an article in the New York Tribune, Muir argued that glaciers had carved Yosemite Valley. California's state geologist ridiculed his views, which were substantially correct. After five years as an active fruit rancher, Muir began his most important campaign to preserve the American wilderness. Muir enraged critics with the charge that lumbermen and sheepherders, with their "hoofed locusts," were ruining Yosemite's wildness. He attacked the prevailing notion that nature existed only to provide commodities for humans. With Century magazine editor Robert Underwood Johnson, Muir pushed for the creation of Yosemite National Park. His magazine and newspaper articles helped change Americans' attitude toward wilderness and wildness. After Muir's death, his journals and other writings provided material for many more books.

 
The Martinez Adobe sits among the trees, along with a park bench.
The Martinez Adobe is part of the John Muir National Historic Site.
 

Martinez Adobe

The Martinez Adobe, located on the western edge of John Muir's historic orchards, features bilingual exhibits for the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. Come learn the story of the Anza Expedition, when Spanish Lt. Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza led 240 men, women and children up the California coast in 1775. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/juba.

Thousands of acres were owned by individual families under the Spanish and Mexican land grant systems. The original Martinez grant contained over 17,000 acres and reached past the town of Pinole southwest of Alhambra Valley. (Don Vincente Martinez, son of the commandante of the Presidio of San Francisco, built this house of adobe bricks around 1849.)

The foundation of the Martinez Adobe is rough stone, while the walls are sun-dried adobe brick ranging in thickness from twenty-four to thirty inches. The roof was covered with shingles of either cedar or redwood.

Don Vicente Martinez lived in his adobe only four years before he sold it to Edward Franklin, the first of a series of owners who would change the land again.

Dr. John Strentzel, father-in-law of John Muir, purchased the adobe from an Australian, Thomas Redfern, in 1874. Dr. Strentzel, often called the father of California horticulture, soon replaced cattle with fruit trees of many varieties. Dr. Strentzel used the adobe as a store room and as a residence for his foremen.

Contrary to legend, John Muir and his wife never lived in the Martinez Adobe, but it was the home of his elder daughter, Wanda, and her husband, Thomas Hanna. John Muir would often eat meals at the adobe and find time to play with his grandchildren.

The coming of heavy industry to Martinez in 1914, the year of Muir's death, saw the beginning of the end of orcharding in the lower Alhambra Valley. Population growth meant that the land had greater monetary value for homes than for orchards, and the land changed again. By the 1960s, open farmland was replaced with houses and streets. Concerned citizens organized themselves to preserve a small sample of the past before it vanished, and in 1964, the adobe became part of the John Muir National Historic Site.

 
Modern photograph of Yosemite National Park. A vista of mountains and trees.
Yosemite Valley. Photo by: Heiko von Raußendorff
 

John Muir and Yosemite

John Muir, in his beloved Sierra Nevada, sparks dialogue leading to the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890.

John Muir has inspired Yosemite's travelers to see under the surface through his poetic imagery: "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine into trees." Muir, who came to California seeking the solitude of nature, decided to stay—dabbling as a glaciologist, a wilderness activist, and a writer who published persuasive ecological articles with a quill made from a golden eagle feather found on Yosemite's Mount Hoffmann.

Muir first visited Yosemite in 1868. He was so impressed with his week's visit that he decided to return the following year, finding work as a ranch hand, as he settled in the area. The next year, he landed a shepherd job for $30 per month that suited him fine. While Muir guided a flock of 2,000 sheep to the Tuolumne Meadows in the High Sierra, he studied the flora and fauna and sketched the mountain scenery. (His experiences and illustrations were later published in My First Summer in the Sierra.) After a stint as a shepherd, Muir found regular work at a newly constructed sawmill alongside the present-day Lower Yosemite Fall trail in the Valley. During the two years he worked at the mill owned by James Mason Hutchings, Muir started building his own Yosemite Creek cabin, if only so he could hear the sound of the water as he slept. Muir's newfound prominence as a Yosemite spokesman bothered Hutchings, who fancied himself the definitive authority on the subject. Tempers flared, and Muir quit in 1871.

In September 1871, two months after leaving the sawmill, Muir wrote his first article for publication on glaciers, published in the New York Tribune. His ability to cultivate connections with literary, scientific, and artistic celebrities rapidly enhanced Muir's reputation as a naturalist. Botanists Asa Gray and Albert Kellogg, artist William Kieth, poetess Ina Cooldrith, editors Charles Warren Stoddard and Henry George, writer Jeanne Carr, educators J.B. McChesney and John Swett, and photographer J.J. Reilly all became early confidants.

Throughout the 1870s, the popularity of Muir's newspaper publications grew steadily. The prolific writer became particularly concerned about natural landscape preservation. Published in the Sacramento Record-Union in 1876, "In God's First Temples: How Shall We Preserve Our Forests?" chided California legislators for standing by while the state's woodlands were recklessly depleted. During the 1880s, he focused his attention on the destruction of natural resources in areas surrounding the state-administered Yosemite Grant, set aside in 1864. Muir was alarmed at the extensive damage livestock animals caused to the delicate High Sierra ecosystems, especially the "hoofed locusts" he had so carefully guarded a few years earlier.

John Muir arrives in Yosemite at age 30

In 1889, Muir took Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century Magazine, to Tuolumne Meadows so he could see how sheep were damaging the land. Muir convinced Johnson that the area could only be saved if it was incorporated into a national park. Johnson's publication of Muir's exposés sparked a bill in the U.S. Congress that proposed creating a new federally administered park surrounding the old Yosemite Grant. Yosemite National Park became a reality in 1890.

While in the midst of his environmental efforts that turned political, Muir's match-making friend, Jeanne Carr, insisted that the bachelor find a mate. Muir married Louisa Strentzel in 1880. Nine years his junior, "Louie" was the 32-year-old daughter of a notable Polish horticulturist and fruit ranch owner in Martinez, California. After his marriage, Muir's visits to Yosemite became less frequent, but Muir returned with his wife to Yosemite in 1884. Louie's fear of bears and her difficulty climbing at Muir's pace, however, made her first trip to Yosemite her last.

The wedded Muir continued to pursue his scientific study with fervor, and just three months after his marriage, he traveled to Alaska as a correspondent for the San Francisco Bulletin and again the following year with the Bulletin team to look for the lost naval exploration ship USS Jeanette. Continuing adventures out of state, Muir achieved an historic ascent of Mount Rainier in Washington in 1888 and numerous journeys to Alaska.

The last 25 years of Muir's life were consumed with constant travel, writing, and oversight of the Sierra Club—for which he served as president from its creation in 1892. He lobbied successfully for the creation of Yosemite Park in 1890 and then asked for additional protections when he toured President Theodore Roosevelt in the park in 1903. Muir's persuasive words to Roosevelt and state authorities led to the return of Yosemite Grant to the federal government in 1906. His published writings were also instrumental in the creation of Grand Canyon and Sequoia national parks.

At the end of his life, Muir and the Sierra Club fought a bitter and ultimately unsuccessful crusade against construction of the O'Shaughnessy Dam in the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. This was reportedly the first major battle of the environmental movement. On Christmas Eve, 1914—just more than a year after Congress authorized the dam's construction—Muir died. Even though he died in a Los Angeles hospital, the great wanderer had remained active and on the move until the last few months of his life.

Although Muir only truly lived in Yosemite for a few years, from 1868 to 1874, his short time in the Sierra changed him forever more. Muir has inspired us to protect natural areas not for their beauty alone but also for their ecological importance. In The Yosemite, published in 1912, he wrote: "But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its wall seems to glow with life."

Thanks to Yosemite, NPS for text contribution.
 

Hetch Hetchy Timeline

The battle between preservationists and conservationists over the fate of the Hetch Hetchy Valley was one that was long and drawn out. Political maneuverings by both parties contributed to policies that were constantly changing in favor from one side to the other in a matter of months. Although the fate of the Hetch Hetchy Valley was eventually sealed in 1913, John Muir and the preservationist's efforts to save his mountain temple sparked the first national debate about preserving a natural area and a new awareness about the country's natural resources.

  • 2 million-10,000 years ago – Ice Age occurs, resulting in carving out the Tuolumne River Canyon into a glacier-formed, u-shaped valley, with a terminal moraine at the west end of Hetch Hetchy Valley.
  • Over 6,000 years ago – Native Americans lived within the Hetch Hetchy Valley before the arrival of Europeans to this region in the 1850’s.
  • 1858 – The privately owned Spring Valley Water Company supplies drinking water to the city of San Francisco. However, disputes over water pricing and the cost to buyout the Spring Valley Water Company motivate the city to seek assistance in looking for water rights that it could own outright.
  • 1876-1877 – George H. Mendell of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers surveys several bodies of water that include Lake Tahoe, Clear Lake, and the Mokelumne River. In his final report, Mendell recommends the Blue Lakes project on the Mokelumne River as an ideal source for San Francisco’s drinking water.
  • 1899 – State engineer William Ham Hall recommends the segregation of reservoir sites at Tenaya, Lake Eleanor, and Tuolomne Meadows as three potential sources of drinking water for San Francisco. During the same year, John Quinton of the U.S. Geological Survey issues a report mentioning that a reservoir in the Hetch Hetchy Valley could serve as an unfailing water source for San Francisco County. Both reports attract the attention of San Franciscan mayor James D. Phelan who contracts J.B Lippincott to conduct a private survey at both Hetch Hetchy Valley and Lake Eleanor. Lippincott estimates that constructing a reservoir in the Hetch Hetchy Valley would alone cost the city $39,531,000.
  • May 29, 1900 – Because both the Hetch Hetchy Valley and Lake Eleanor were located in Yosemite National Park (managed by the Department of the Interior), Mayor Phelan inquired about the legal possibilities of gaining access to them. Mayor Phelan’s inquiry was among several other’s regarding the use of natural resources located within the boundaries of federally reserved land. In order to clear up the confusion, Representative Marion DeVries of Stockton, California introduced bill H.R. 11973 which would allow municipal use of National Parks.
  • February 15, 1901 – The Right of Way Act becomes law, which allows the Secretary of Interior to grant the right of way and use of federally reserved land to local governments without congressional approval. The majority of content from this act originated from Representative DeVries’ H.R. 11973 bill.
  • October 16, 1901 – Mayor Phelan files an application with the Register of the Stockton Land Office for reservoir rights at Lake Eleanor and Hetch Hetchy Valley.
  • 1902 – E.E. Schmitz replaces Phelan as the new mayor of San Francisco. However Phelan continues petitioning for the use of Lake Eleanor and Hetch Hetchy Valley as the primary water sources for San Francisco.
  • January 20, 1903 – Secretary of the Interior E. A. Hitchcock of the Theodore Roosevelt Administration denies Phelan’s request for reservoir rights to Lake Eleanor and Hetch Hetchy Valley. A month later, Phelan submits a second request, this time through the County of San Francisco.
  • December 22, 1903 – Secretary Hitchcock denies Phelan’s request for reservoir rights to Lake Eleanor and Hetch Hetchy Valley for a second time. This prompts San Francisco Attorney Franklin K. Lane to submit a petition for review.
  • 1905 – Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot of the U.S. Forest Service recommends to personal friend and President of the United Sates, Theodore Roosevelt that San Francisco should be granted reservoir rights. Pinchot advises that Lake Eleanor should to be used first to its fullest capacity and Hetch Hetchy Valley should be used after that capacity is full. Consultant Engineer for San Francisco Marsden Manson also speaks with President Roosevelt regarding reservoir rights.
  • February 20, 1905 – After reviewing Lane’s petition, Secretary Hitchcock denies San Francisco’s request for reservoir rights to Lake Eleanor and Hetch Hetchy Valley for a third time. Secretary Hitchcock claims his primary reason for denying San Francisco reservoir rights to Lake Eleanor and Hetch Hetchy Valley is due to his obligation to maintain Yosemite National Park for recreational use only.
  • February 3, 1906 – The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passes Resolution no. 6949 that asks city officials to abandon their pursuit of the Hetch Hetchy Valley and to look for other water sources.
  • April 18, 1906 – A large magnitude earthquake destroys the majority of San Francisco. Several days afterwards the Board of Supervisors issues a solicitation asking to purchase existing water systems. Out of the 11 offers received, the Board of Supervisors selected the Bay Cities Water Company, whose operations are along the American and Consumnes River in the Sacramento Region.
  • May 18, 1906 – Chief Forester Pinchot writes a letter to Manson offering his assistance with helping San Francisco acquire reservoir rights to Eleanor Lake and Hetch Hetchy Valley.
  • March 5, 1907 – James R. Garfield (son of former president James A. Garfield) replaces Hitchcock as the new Secretary of the Interior. Shortly after this, Pinchot writes another letter to Manson suggesting that Secretary Garfield will favor granting reservoir rights to San Francisco.
  • July 27, 1907 – Pinchot’s letter to Manson prompts the Board of Supervisors to ignore Resolution no. 6949 and proceed forward with a hearing regarding reservoir rights in Lake Eleanor and Hetch Hetchy Valley.
  • November 1907 – The Sierra Club encourages its members to send a letter of disapproval to President Theodore Roosevelt in regards to San Francisco’s request for reservoir rights. The letter is endorsed by Sierra Club President John Muir and Board of Directors Joseph N. LeConte, William F. Bade, E.T. Parsons, and William E. Colby.
  • May 11, 1908 – Secretary Garfield grants San Francisco reservoir rights to Lake Eleanor and Hetch Hetchy Valley with the stipulation that Lake Eleanor must be utilized to its fullest capacity before the Hetch Hetchy Valley can be used.
  • 1908-1909 – The San Francisco Board of Supervisors decide they want immediate access to Hetch Hetchy Valley. In order to override the requirement of them having to use Lake Eleanor first as a reservoir, the city petitions Congress to override the 1908 Garfield Permit. After hearing from both San Francisco and members of the Sierra Club, Congress denies San Francisco’s request for immediate access to Hetch Hetchy.
  • March 1909 – President William Howard Taft appoints Richard Ballinger as the new Secretary of Interior.
  • April 1909 – After differences in opinion among the board of directors concerning the Sierra Club’s support for preserving the Hetch Hetchy Valley, Board Director William Colby starts a separate organization called the Society for the Preservation of National Parks. This new organization was created with the sole purpose of preventing the utilitarian use of natural resources located within national parks and contains most of the same board of directors as the Sierra Club including John Muir as the Society’s president. Both the Society and Sierra Club correspond with and gain support from various environmental organizations across the nation such as Appalachian Mountain Club of Boston and the American Civic Association of Washington D.C.
  • October 1909 – John Muir gives President Taft a tour of Yosemite Valley. Shortly afterwards, Muir then gives Secretary Ballinger a tour of the Hetch Hetchy Valley.
  • December 11, 1909 – San Francisco newspaper the Call is outraged with a pamphlet that was distributed by the Society to members of Congress, other environmental groups, and the press. The pamphlet contained photographs of the Hetch Hetchy Valley and the Soceity’s stance for wanting to preserve it. The Call claimed the information in these packets was false and that the Society was against the city of San Francisco.
  • February 18, 1910 – The Sierra Club officially supports the preservation of Hetch Hetchy after taking a poll to determine where each member stood on the matter. The majority of members (581 to 161) voted that the Hetch Hetchy Valley should remain unaltered and part of Yosemite National Park.
  • February 25, 1910 – After receiving letters from various environmental organizations across the nation, Secretary Ballinger adds a stipulation to San Francisco’s reservoir rights originally granted to the city in 1908 by former Secretary of the Interior Garfield. The new stipulation requires the city to justify why the Hetch Hetchy Valley shouldn’t be eliminated from the original permit.
  • May 25, 1910 – San Francisco’s first hearing regarding its justification for using the Hetch Hetchy Valley is extended due to a request from the Board of Army Engineers for the city to supply more sufficient evidence.
  • March 13, 1911 – President Taft appoints Walter Fisher as the new Secretary of the Interior.
  • September 16, 1911 – Secretary Fisher takes a trip to the Hetch Hetchy Valley. Among the Fisher’s party is J. Horace McFarland of the American Civic Association, who supports preserving Hetch Hetchy Valley, and San Francisco city engineer Marsden Manson, who supports utilizing the Hetch Hetchy Valley as a reservoir. Both men explain their point of view to the Secretary during this trip.
  • 1912 – Engineer John Freeman, on behalf of San Francisco, prepares a 401-page report supporting San Francisco’s claim for Hetch Hetchy.
  • November 25, 1912 – After being delayed five times, San Francisco’s hearing for its justification of acquiring Hetch Hetchy Valley commences. Six days later, the verdict is inconclusive and San Francisco is granted more time to submit additional evidence for its justification.
  • 1913 – San Francisco submits additional evidence for justifying its use of Hetch Hetchy Valley.
  • February 19, 1913 – The Army Corps of Engineers issues a report stating that other sources of water are available for San Francisco’s use in sufficient quantity and suitable quality and that building a reservoir in Hetch Hetchy Valley would be about $20,000,000 cheaper than any other feasible projects.
  • March 1, 1913 – Secretary Fisher writes a letter to the city of San Francisco denying their justifications for using Hetch Hetchy Valley. Fisher also adds a new stipulation requiring San Francisco to seek congressional approval for its justified use of Hetch Hetchy Valley.
  • March 4, 1913 – President Woodrow Wilson appoints former San Francisco attorney Franklin K. Lane as the new Secretary of the Interior.
  • April 7, 1913 – Representative John E. Raker introduces H.R. 112 into the house, a bill that would grant San Francisco immediate access to the Hetch Hetchy Valley after corresponding with the city’s Board of Supervisors.
  • September 3, 1913 – After hearings from both environmental groups and the city of San Francisco, the House of Representatives passes H.R. 7207 by a vote of 183 to 43, a similar bill that would grant San Francisco immediate rights to the Hetch Hetchy Valley. H.R. 7207 is introduced into the Senate as the Raker Act.
  • December 6, 1913 – After a week of debate between environmental groups, water corporations, concerned citizens, and the City of San Francisco, the Senate passed the Raker Act by a vote of 43 in favor, 25 opposed, and 27 abstaining.
  • December 19, 1913 – President Wilson signs the Raker Act giving the city of San Francisco full access to building a reservoir in the Hetch Hetchy Valley. Construction of the O'Shaughnessy Dam begins the following year.
  • December 24, 1914 – John Muir passes away from pneumonia.
  • August 25, 1916 – The Organic Act is signed, creating the National Park Service agency with the mission to preserve all of the national parks for this and future generations.
  • May 1923 – Construction of the O'Shaughnessy Dam is completed, transforming the Hetch Hetchy Valley into the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
  • 1934 – Water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir reaches San Francisco.

References

Jones, H. R. (1965). John Muir and the Sierra Club: The Battle for Yosemite. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club.

Righter, R. W. (2005). The Battle Over Hetch Hetchy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc.

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission,(2005). A History of the Municipal Water Department & Hetch Hetchy System. Retrieved from http://www.sfwater.org/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=5224

Wolfe, L. M. (2003). Son of the Wilderness. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Worster, D. (2008). A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir, New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc.

Last updated: May 31, 2017

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