Good news! When Ruth & I visited the John Muir house in Martinez, CA on March 9, 2021, we were told we could tour the grounds and talk to the 2 rangers present, but we could not get into the house because of COVID. We were told that it could reopen to the public soon, however. That happened about a week and a half ago. Given a copy of the self guided tour of the house, I was told that the main thing I missed was not being able to see Muir’s office on the 2nd floor and the desk he used that had been returned to the mansion. John Muir didn’t seem like the mansion type.
I learned from ranger Eric Stearns that John Muir lived in this imposing house that has a bell tower in Martinez near San Francisco for 25 years. He wrote most of his books and articles here in what he called his scribble den. John Muir married the daughter of the owner of this mansion in 1880. Dr. John Strentzel was born in Poland, got his medical degree in Hungary, and emigrated to the US and lived in Texas where he married Louisiana Ervin. They moved to the Alhambra Valley in California via wagon train in 1852, and John Strentzel continued to practice medicine. Their daughter Louie married John Muir 28 years later. John and Louie managed her father’s orchards for several years. John traveled a lot, eventually making 7 trips to Alaska. Louie had vast experience in land management as a result. The property was left to their 2 daughters, but John Muir bought it in 1912 two years before he died at the age of 76.
The question becomes, should you want to see this house and the Martinez property? The answer depends on your interest in the writer, geologist, fruit rancher, and inventor who founded the Sierra Club and is often called The Father of Our National Park System. If you do want to see the house he lived in for 25 years, it’s now opened for 20 minute visits after which you can tour the orchards he and his wife managed and see the Vincente Martinez Adobe. This building survived the 1906 earthquake that damaged the mansion. Vincente’s father was the 1st Commander of San Francisco’s Presidio.
John Muir was a life-long walker who divided his time during his final years among Los Angeles, Klamath Lake’s Pelican Bay in Oregon, and this house in Martinez. If you are a walker too, you might be interested in the John Muir Way. This 134 mile trail begins at his birthplace in Dunbar, Scotland, and ends at Helensburgh, the place where he left for the United States as an immigrant. It takes the normal walker 12 days to accomplish this hike. Before you leave Dunbar, you can visit his Birthplace Museum, and the trail includes Scotland’s first national park called Trossachs.
All of the 12 books that John Muir wrote during his life are still in print. He always planned to write his autobiography, but the only book about his life that was published during his life was My Boyhood and Youth. It was well received. After he died, 4 more volumes about his vivid life and accomplishments were found and published. They sound like interesting reading.