Fountain Lake Farm:
John Muir's Boyhood Home
In 1849, a family from Scotland homesteaded 160 acres in what is
now Marquette County, Wisconsin. Fountain Lake Farm, they called it. They
raised a house and several outbuildings, planted lilacs and maple trees,
and wrung a meager living from the thin, sandy soil. Seven years later, the
family - Muir was their name - moved to a new, more fertile acreage.
But for young John Muir, the worth of Fountain Lake Farm was not
measured by its crops (or by their lack). Instead, in its "sunny woods,
overlooking a flowery glacial meadow and a lake rimmed with water lilies,"
he developed a profound love for nature and an abiding respect for things
wild, the values that shaped the course of his entire life. Muir became
America's most eloquent, impassioned spokesman for the preservation of
wilderness. He was the "father" of the National Parks, and the founder of
the Sierra Club. And while he spent countless hours exploring the
spectacular mountains, canyons and glaciers of California and Alaska, his
thoughts returned again and again to his boyhood at Fountain Lake Farm.
Those who study John Muir say that Fountain Lake Farm was to him what
Walden Pond was to
In fact, Muir tried to buy the farm on at least three occasions,
seeking to create, as his spiritual heir Aldo Leopold put it, "a sanctuary
for the wildflowers that had gladdened his youth." He was unsuccessful -
his brother, who owned the property then, refused to sell - but at least it
appears that Fountain Lake Farm will receive the recognition it deserves.
The parcel known as the "home 80," including John Muir Memorial
County Park, was recently designated a National Historic Landmark. The
National Park Service, in cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of
Natural Resources, Marquette County, and ecologist and landscape architect
Erik Brynildson, whose house stands on the site of the original Muir home, are
putting together a long-term plan for the area. Preserving and interpreting
its natural history will be an emphasis, along with taking advantage of the
farm's potential as a classroom for environmental education.
"This is the first place," observes Brynildson, "that any American
conceived the notion of preserving nature for its own sake. We're used to
thinking of historical significance in terms of architecture - Victorians
and Queen Annes. Here, it's the living ingredients of the landscape that
are important." Two of those ingredients are the lilacs and maples that
John Muir helped plant, still rooted in that sandy soil. Another, rooted
even more securely, is Muir's spirit.