The magic of John Muir lives today in our public parklands and wilderness areas, the orchards and vineyards of Contra Costa County, sunsets atop Mt. Wanda, and in writings and teachings that spread the word about nature and our place in it.

Martinez Historical Society Home Tour

Photos by Carter Wilson

 

Since 2008, John Muir’s Victorian home at the John Muir National Historic Site has been a part of the annual Martinez Historical Society Home Tour. Please visit www.martinezhometour.com for tour updates.

About the Muir HomeBuilt in 1882

John Muir’s home was among the grandest of its time, costing $20,000 to build, an extravagant amount in its day. An article in the Martinez Gazette, written while the house was being constructed, said “with but one or two exceptions, it will be the finest and most complete private residence in the county.”

The house was built for Dr. John and Louisiana Strentzel, Muir’s parents-in-law. The Strentzels gave their original house to John and his bride Louie as a wedding gift. When Dr. Strentzel died in 1890, the Muirs moved into this house.

The seventeen-room home is in the Italianate style of late Victorian architecture, and is constructed mostly of redwood. The architects were Wolfe and Son of San Francisco. The home incorporates key features of the Italianate style, including: a rectangular, symmetrical shape, wide eaves with brackets and cornices, a porch with balustrades, a square cupola and high, double-paned windows with hood moldings.

The interior of the 10,000 square-foot house with 12-foot-high ceilings has retained many of its original features, including the Douglas fir floor and black walnut staircase banister. Note the crack in the transom over the front door, which occurred during the Port Chicago explosion of World War II. Phone service was installed in 1884 by Dr. Strentzel, and the house was one of the first in the area to have it (the phone in the downstairs hallway is not original).

The house suffered some damage during the 1906 earthquake, including two of the Italian marble fireplaces. Muir replaced the east parlor’s damaged fireplace with a large, Mission style brick one. He described it in a letter to a friend, “In particular I've built a big fireplace, almost suitable for mountaineers, into which I roll a jolly pair of logs two feet in diameter and pile a half dozen smaller ones between and back of them making fires that flame and roar and radiate sunny heat like those we built on the frosty Coyote Meadows above the canyon of the Kern.” (January 7, 1907)

Furnishings in the home are from the period, but did not belong to the Muirs or Strentzels. An exception is John Muir’s original desk in his “scribble den,” where he penned most of his published works, including his books—writings that paved the way to preserving our nation’s most beautiful natural lands, or “wild places.”

Upstairs, the small balcony at the end of the hall is where Muir slept on many clear nights, seeming to prefer having the stars over his head to a roof.

When John Muir died in 1914 (nine years after his wife), his grown daughters Wanda and Helen sold the house. It remained in the hands of private owners until local citizens (including those who established the John Muir Association) worked for the historic structure’s establishment as a public treasure. The National Park Service bought the house in 1964, along with nine acres of the Muir’s fruit ranch. In 1993, NPS bought an additional 326 acres, known as Mt. Wanda.

Next to Alhambra Creek, about a mile from the house, Muir was buried next to his wife on what was once part of the original 2,600-acre ranch. His gravesite lies under the stars.

 

 
 
 

 

 

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