History of Muir Woods

Illustration of three Coast Miwok natives wearing various headbands and headdresses
Illustration of three Coast Miwok natives wearing various headbands and headdresses

Meriam Library, California State University, Chico.

~20 million years before present: Coast redwoods begin growing in California. Coast Redwoods grow elsewhere in the world up to ~60 million years before present, until which time present-day coastal California was covered by a shallow sea.

13,000 years before present: The redwood canyon is part of the homeland of the Huimen, a tribe of the Coast Miwok people. The present-day land of Marin County and Muir Woods is the land of the Coast Miwok, a part of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.

1838: William Antonio Richardson receives a land grant from the Mexican government for the land south of Mount Tamalpais, including Redwood Canyon (now known as Muir Woods) and the town of Sausalito. He names it Rancho Sausalito

1840: The population of Huimen Coast Miwok people before European arrival was estimated around 3000. In 1840, the population is estimated around 90%, or 300 people. This is due to the effect of Spanish Missions, European disease, and slavery.

1855: Riddled with debt, Richardson sells Rancho Sausalito to Samuel R. Throckmorton. Throckmorton later uses the land for a hunting and fishing resort. It becomes his “pride and playground”. He sets up large fences to keep out trespassers and jealously guards the existence of the old growth redwood forest within.

1889: After Trockmorton’s death, the land is acquired by the San Francisco Land and Water Company. They begin to auction off the land for development.

September 3, 1892: The Bohemian Club considers purchashing Redwood Canyon as a home for their summer resorts. They camp in the forest for two weeks, and build a large 70-foot statue of Daibutsu Buddha in an area later to be known as the Bohemian Grove. This statue gradually deteriorates over time; there is currently no evidence of the statue or the summer encampment in Muir Woods. After their two week camping trip, they decide the forest did not serve their needs. They instead purchase a redwood forest further North, leaving Muir Woods to an unknown fate.

1900: The population of Huimen Coast Miwok people before European arrival was estimated around 3000. In 1900, the population is documented at 6, all of whom are mixed ancestry. This is due to the effect of Spanish Missions, European disease, and slavery.

1903: The last bear in Muir Woods is killed. Mountain Lions, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and river otter populations fade from the area. No brown bears have been seen in Marin County since the early 1900’s due to being hunted to a local extinction. Black bears are only seen rarely.

September 1903: Prominent Marin and San Francisco residents meet to discuss the prospects of Mt. Tamalpais being a National Park. Speakers at the event included William Kent and Gifford Pichot. The movement later fails after a crucial landowner raises the price by over 60%.

 
Women stand in front of an old fashioned with with a sign that reads 'Save the Redwoods'. These women were a part of the movement that helped preserve redwoods across the state of California.
Women stand in front of an old fashioned with with a sign that reads 'Save the Redwoods'. These women were a part of the movement that helped preserve redwoods across the state of California.

Humbolt Historical Society

November 1904: The California Club, a women's club based in San Francisco and started by Laura Lyon White, picks up the campaign. This time, their sole goal was to save Redwood Canyon. This includes pledging to raise $80,000 to purchase the forest, and raising public support.

Early 1905: The movement fails due to having a hard time finding the funds. Lovell White, husband of Laura Lyon White and the banker who was overseeing the sale of the Canyon, was inspired to keep searching for an owner that would preserve the forest. According to White family lore, Lovell may also have been fulfilling a bargain he made with Laura Lyon White. If she had another child, he would financially support her causes. Laura had fulfilled her part of the bargain by bearing a son several years earlier. Accordingly, Lovell was willing to drop the price to a steeply discounted rate in order to help save the forest, a cause Laura Lyon White was passionate about.

Early 1905: William Kent tours Redwood Canyon with the owner of the Mt. Tamalpais Railroad, and conceives of a plan to purchase the forest and recoup his money through business. He purchased the forest with a large weakness: while he purchased the land, the water rights in the forest were purchased by the North Coast Water Company.

1905: William Kent and Elizabeth Thacher Kent acquire the property now known as Muir Woods. They purchase 611 acres at the time, for the discounted sum of $45,000. Though the Kents are considered wealthy, they do not have much in the way of liquid assets; they secure a loan from a sympathetic banker friend. Elizabeth questions the expense, but is convinced by her husband's (perhaps joking) response: "If we lost all the money we have and saved these trees, it would be worthwhile, wouldn't it?"

April 18, 1906: The San Francisco earthquake occurs at 5:12am at a 7.9 magnitude. 80% of the city of San Francisco is destroyed, primarily due to fires started by the earthquake. Over 200,000 people are left homeless. The earthquake made people more sympathetic for logging redwoods to rebuild cities.

June 8, 1906: The United States Congress passes the Antiquities Act, giving the President of the United States the right to declare National Monuments, areas of historic or scientific value, by presidential Proclamation.

 
Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crews at work building stone revetments in Redwood Creek, June 1936.
Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crews at work building stone revetments in Redwood Creek, June 1936.

National Archives II, RG 35 Records of the Civilian Conservation Corps

1907: The North Coast Water Company filed a lawsuit to develop a reservoir in Muir Woods. Although the Kent’s purchased the land in the forest a year earlier, the North Coast Water Company had purchased the water rights in the canyon. The company was hesitant to use those water rights previously because there was a lot of public support surrounding the forest. This was probably due to the combined influence of the campaign started by the California Club, and increased hiking access to Mount Tamalpais. However after the 1906 earthquake, the public became more sympathetic to the logging of redwood trees to rebuild cities. The North Coast Water Company used this opportunity to pursue their reservoir.




1907: The Mt. Tamalpais Railroad, which William Kent was a large shareholder of, added a branch descending into Muir Woods. The railroad was renowned for its remarkable steep and curved track. It’s windy route up Mount Tamalpais provided visitors with panoramic views of the Bay Area. Once the line was opened to Muir Woods, visitors could glide down to see the redwood forest in a gravity car. This opened up access to the forest, and increased visitation.

January 9, 1908: Proclamation of Muir Woods National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt, consisting of 295 acres. Muir Woods becomes the 7th National Monument, and the first created from land donated by a private individual. The donation of the land to the federal government canceled the lawsuit filed by the North Coast Water Company.

May 1, 1910: A commemorative plaque is placed and a redwood tree is dedicated to Gifford Pinchot, Head of the U.S. Forest Service and one of the people instrumental in the founding of Muir Woods National Monument. Pinchot is not present for the dedication ceremony. The plaque can be found at Founder’s Grove.

August 25, 1916: President Woodrow Wilson signs the Organic Act which creates the National Park Service, a new federal bureau in the Department of the Interior responsible for protecting the 35 national parks and monuments managed by the department and those yet to be established.

July 1925: The Muir Woods Toll Road Company begins construction on a new road to the Monument. Initially called the Frank Valley Toll Road, it is carved from an old pack-mule trail, which snaked down the lower, southwest slope of Mt. Tamalpais until it descends into Frank Valley. In 1939, the State takes over administration and maintenance of this road, and the toll is removed. Today, this is the most popular route used to access the park.

December 1928: The Kent Memorial is erected at the Kent Tree in Fern Canyon, along present-day Fern Creek. The official dedication for the tree took place on May 5th of 1929. Kent tree was the tallest tree in the park, and Kent's favorite tree. Surprisingly, it was a Douglas fir, not a redwood. The tree is no longer standing, but the memorial is still there.

July 2, 1929: The Great Fire of 1929 burns 2,500 acres and 117 homes over three days on Mount Tamalpais in Mill Valley.

October 31, 1929: The last train car of the Mount Tamalpais and Muir Woods Railway rides up the mountain. Decreased ridership due to increased automobile usage and damage from the July 1929 fire result of a loss in profit.

October 1933: Often called the "busiest month" in the history of Muir Woods, this month saw the arrival of the Civilian Conservation Corps, or the CCC, to the park. Up to 200 men were stationed at this new camp, initially called Muir Woods Camp NM-3 The "NM" stood for National Monument. The camp was later changed to Camp Mt. Tamalpais SP-23, with the "SP" referring to State Park.
The men begin work in Muir Woods and the surrounding Tamalpais State Park. Projects include a revetment (rockwork stream banks) in Redwood Creek; construction of a stone-faced concrete bridge on Fern Creek; construction of utility buildings and benches; and the construction of the Sidney B. Cushing Memorial Amphitheater (the "Mountain Theater"), near Rock Springs, on Mt. Tamalpais. The CCC completes its last project in Muir Woods in May 1941, and is disbanded shortly thereafter.

May 27, 1937: The Golden Gate Bridge is completed. Visitation to the park triples in one year, reaching over 180,000 visitors.
 
Dignitaries gathered in Cathedral Grove at Muir Woods to remember FDR.
Dignitaries gathered in Cathedral Grove at Muir Woods to remember FDR.

Save the Redwoods League

May 19, 1945: Delegates from all over the world meet to draft and sign the Charter of the United Nations. President Franklin D. Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, shortly before he is to have opened the United Nations Conference. On May 19, the delegates hold a commemorative ceremony in tribute to his memory in Muir Woods' Cathedral Grove, where a dedication plaque is placed in his honor.






1985: The first prescribed burn at Muir Woods is conducted. It is located at the Deer Park Fire Road and Dipsea Trail with the primary goal to reduce hazardous fuels. It is followed by prescribed burns in 1991, 1996, 1997, and 1998.

October 17, 1989: The Loma Prieta earthquake occurs at 5:04pm at a 6.9 magnitude.

November 1998: The last prescribed burn at Muir Woods is conducted. The burn is located above the Ben Johnson trailhead, at a total of 35 acres.

May 19, 1995: The United Nations and the National Park Service hold a special commemorative ceremony in tribute to the life of Franklin D. Roosevelt and to honor the founding of the United Nations and its achievements in its first fifty years.

July 8th, 1996: An 800 year old redwood tree topples in the Cathedral Grove of Muir Woods National Monument. About 50 awestruck visitors watch as the 200-feet-tall, 12-feet-wide redwood monarch falls with a roar that could be heard all the way to the parking lot, almost one half mile away. The tree, which topples gracefully up-slope causes no damage and requires no clean up. The tree remains where it fell, providing nutrients to the soil, nesting for birds, bedding for plants and water for everything. It can be viewed today in its final resting place just to the left of the United Nations plaque honoring Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the Cathedral Grove of Muir Woods.

 
People gather on the beach for the Welcome Back Salmon ceremony by the Coast Miwoks, the original inhabitants of the Redwood Creek Watershed. The annual event is held at the end of each phase of the restoration construction.
People gather on the beach for the Welcome Back Salmon ceremony by the Coast Miwoks, the original inhabitants of the Redwood Creek Watershed. The annual event is held at the end of each phase of the restoration construction.

NPS / Lou Sian

January 9, 2008:Muir Woods celebrates its centennial, with 100 years as a National Monument.

2008- Cathedral Grove is designated as a quiet zone. Visitors are asked to explore the area quietly and take a closer examination of the sounds of the forest by reducing their noise pollution.

2009: Muir Beach restoration project begins to provide a healthier ecosystem for plant and animal life of Redwood Creek. The project focuses on creek and floodplain restoration, helping to increase the capacity of the creek to transport sediment and water, reduce flooding at higher elevations of the floodplain, and better support species such as the endangered Coho salmon, the threatened steelhead trout, and the threatened California red-legged frog. The project lasts for approximately 5 years, with maintenance of the area ongoing.

March 28-29, 2014: The Muir Woods BioBlitz takes place. Over 320 volunteer scientists, and 9,000 families, teachers, and students from across the world conducted a comprehensive inventory of the plants, insects, mammals, birds, and other species of Muir Woods and the surrounding Golden Gate National Recreation area. The first-ever canopy survey of redwoods at Muir Woods is conducted, giving scientists new information about the height, age, and condition of the trees.

January 2016: Muir Woods Redwood Renewal project begins with the introduction of the parking reservation system. The 5-stage project spanning over 7 years aims to protect the fragile resources of Muir Woods. Projects include parking reservation and shuttle system, water and wastewater service rehabilitation, salmon habitat enhancement and bridge replacements, accessible trails, and Muir Woods road improvements.

Last updated: April 19, 2021

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Muir Woods National Monument
1 Muir Woods Rd

Mill Valley, CA 94941

Phone:

(415) 561-2850

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