Friday, July 26, 2013

Out and about: John Muir National Historic Site, Martinez

The Victorian gracing a hill in the Alhambra Valley became the final home of naturalist John Muir, who lived there for 24 years. His pioneering efforts to preserve America's natural lands garnered the Sierra Club co-founder the nickname "The Father of our National Park System." Take a self-guided tour through his home, and the next time you visit a national park, thank Muir.

All photographs by Stephanie Wright Hession copyright 2013.

1. Muir Home

John Muir's father-in-law, Dr. John Strentzel, had this home constructed in 1882. After Strentzel's death in 1890, Muir's mother-in-law asked him, his wife and their daughters to reside with her in the 17-room, two-story mansion designed by San Francisco architects Wolfe and Son.

2. East and west parlors

To the right of the home's foyer, the formal west parlor is decorated with red wallpaper, an elegant chandelier, a gilded mirror and a piano. Accomplished pianist Louie Muir, John's wife, enjoyed playing there. John Muir had this rustic, brick fireplace built in the east parlor after the 1906 earthquake.

3. Dining room and conservatory

To encourage his daughters to dine with him, Muir would delight them with stories. Today, historical photographs, books and booklets adorn the dining table, and a nearby shelf holds framed photographs and profiles of artist William Keith, a fellow Scotsman, and other Muir friends. Adjacent to the dining room is a petite conservatory.

4. Muir's study and bedroom

From inside his study, which he referred to as his "scribble den," Muir penned some of the 12 books and more than 300 magazine articles he wrote during his lifetime. In his bedroom across the hall, he preferred to wake up with the sun, and so no curtains covered its large windows.

5. Attic and bell tower

Inside an attic, next to an assortment of antique furniture, you'll find a display of historic photographs related to Muir and the national parks. But the real fun is climbing the steep stairway to the bell tower and surveying the view from its rows of windows. And, yes, there's still a bell.

6. Orchards and grounds

After visiting the house, stroll the paved path through the grounds and past some of the orchards, remnants from Muir's fruit ranch. Here, he grew fruit trees, including Astrachan and Gravenstein apples, elderberry and quince. Visit the Martinez Adobe, built in 1849 and also open to the public.

Of Note:

Stop at the visitor center first (next to the parking lot) to learn more about John Muir including watching "A Glorious Journey," a short film about him, then take a ranger led or self guided tour of his home and grounds. John Muir National Historic Site, 4202 Alhambra Ave., Martinez. (925) 228-8860. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sun. Admission is free.

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