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Most Often Asked Questions at the John Muir National Historic Site

(All answers come from the materials in the Visitor Center library and files unless otherwise indicated.)

1. Who was John Muir?

He was a famous conservationist -- perhaps this country's most famous and influential conservationist and naturalist. If it weren't for John Muir we probably would not have Yosemite National Park.

He was also personally involved in creating Petrified Forest , Grand Canyon , Sequoia Kings Canyon , and Mt. Rainier . Therefore, he is often called The Father of Our National Park System . John Muir founded the Sierra Club in 1892 and was the president until his death in 1914.

In addition, John Muir was a writer, a lecturer, a geologist, a botanist, a glacier expert, an explorer, a school teacher, a Sunday School teacher, an efficiency expert, and inventor. He was a complicated, multi-talented man. Wanda Muir Hanna, elder daughter of John Muir, explained her father to one of his biographers (Linnie March Wolfe), "If you had known him, you would have seen only one side of him, and he had many sides. No two people -- even his closest friends ever had quite the same idea of him."

( Son of the Wilderness , Preface, pg. vii. )
2. What did John Muir write?

He wrote well over 300 magazine articles and 10 major books. At the time of his death he was working on a book about his travel in Alaska. He had plans and enough material in his notebooks for ten more books.

3. Why did John Muir choose to live in Martinez?

he married Louie Strentzel in 1880. Her family owned and operated a large 2600 acre ranch here in Alhambra Valley. John Muir went into partnership with his father-in-law, Dr. John Strentzel, and for ten years directed most of his energy into managing this large fruit ranch.

4. What was this area's population in John Muir's time?

Martinez in 1888 - 875 people
1890 - about 1000 (records destroyed in fire)
1900 - 1,380
1910 - 2,115

(Martinez city Hall and Martinez City Museum)
5. Was John Muir a wealthy man?

When he was young he was not wealthy. He took odd jobs to support himself as he rambled about the United States and Canada. He worked in sawmills, on farms, in a broom factory, in a carriage factory, as a sheepherder. After his marriage he became a partner in the large fruit ranch until he felt he had made enough to take care of his family. He then retired from active ranching and turned to writing and working for the conservation cause. Eventually, his writings and lectures brought in additional money.

6. Did John Muir have any children?

Yes, John and Louie had two daughters:

Wanda, born March 25, 1881, died July 1942, 60 years of age.

( Martinez Gazette )

Helen, born January 23, 1886, died June 1964, 78 years of age.

(Walter Muir's file)
7. Are there any descendants of John Muir?

Yes, there were ten grandchildren -- three are still living as of May 1993.

Wanda married Thomas Hanna: they had six children:
John Hanna -- lives in Napa Valley
Ross Hanna -- lives in the Sacramento Valley
Richard Hanna -- deceased
Robert Hanna -- deceased
Jean Hanna deLipkau Clark (only granddaughter) -- deceased

(Discussions with Peg Plummer)

Helen and three of her sons changed their name from Funk to Muir in 1940. Muir Funk did not because his first name was Muir and also because he was involved in competition for a job at the time.

(Letter in Walter Muir's file)
8. Was John Muir a religious man?

Yes, he was a very religious man, although he was not a member of any established church. He saw evidence of a divine spiritual being everywhere in nature.

( Son of the Wilderness , pg. 102, 103 )
9. What is the square footage of the Muir House?

10,010 square feet according to the architect's drawing. This includes all the porches, the attic and the basement.

10. Is this the original furniture?

One piece of original furniture is upstairs in John Muir's study, or his "scribble den". It is the simple flat top desk placed in front of the north windows. John Muir spent many hours writing at this desk. There are several other pieces of original furniture in the house, but most of the furnishings are just similar to those of the Muir family.

11. What kind of floors are in the Muir house?

The floors are Douglas fir painted to look like golden oak. The painting technique was very popular in Victorian times. It is called wood graining or graining or feathering.

12. Did Teddy Roosevelt ever visit here?

Absolutely not, according to Helen Muir in a letter she wrote to her friend Hattie in 1958.

(Letter in Helen Muir's file)
13. What famous people did visit John Muir in the house?

William Keith -- premier Californian artist
John Swett -- Superintendent of California Schools, Father of California Public School System.
Charles Keeler -- Berkeley poet and noted ornithologist
Robert Underwood Johnson -- Editor of Century magazine
William Colby -- a Sierra Club founder
John Burroughs -- famous American naturalist and wrier

14. Was John Muir a draft dodger during the Civil War?

No, we do not feel that he was because he often wrote home to see if he had been drafted. However, he would not volunteer. "War is the farthest reaching and most infernal of all civilized calamities." This was his feeling about the Civil War in America for which he refused to volunteer.

( Son of the Wilderness , pg 17, 68, 90; John Muir and His Legacy , Fox, pg 42, 43 )
15. Was John Muir really a lousy father and husband?

There are fragments of old gossip that pop up in conversation from time to time. John Muir did cause controversy because he did not lead the same sort of life as most people in the area. However, from diaries and letters it appears the family had a very loving and understanding relationship. Louie Muir often urged her husband to go to the mountains for his health. (He worked so hard and long on the ranch he sometimes got down below 100 lbs.) Louie was very supportive of his fight for conservation and the traveling the cause required.

16. Is there a place to have a picnic here?

Yes, there are picnic tables at the covered patio behind the Martinez Adobe. This is just a small lunch area, not a recreation area. There is no room for frisbee or ball playing.

17. How old was John Muir when he died and where is he buried?

John Muir was 76 years old when he died of pneumonia in a Los Angeles hospital on Christmas Eve day in 1914. He had been visiting his daughter Helen and her family in Daggett when his cold developed into pneumonia.

His funeral was held in the Muir House. He is buried beside Mrs. Muir in a small family cemetery about one mile south of here. Louis Muir died in 1905.

18. To which clan did John Muir belong?

The Muir family belonged to the Gordon Clan.

19. What type of wood is the beautiful banister railing in the Muir House?

Black walnut

(wood sample report - 1981)
20. What kinds of grapes are grown here?

Muscat -- green
Zinfandel -- dark purple
Tokay -- maroon and green

21. What kind of apples?

Jonathan, Yellow Newton, and Gravenstein

22. What is the fruit that looks like big fuzzy apples?


23. What are those big bushes with clusters of little dark berries?


24. What is the big droopy tree on the east side of the house?

Mourning cypress tree

25. How long has this been a National Historic Site?

Since 1964

26. What was the Hetch Hetchy?

Hetch Hetchy was a valley along the Tuolumne River located northeast of Yosemite Valley. Although smaller, its beauty was ruggedly spectacular and similar to Yosemite. Many of those lucky enough to have seen it felt it to be more intimate, gracious and charming.

John Muir tried to save it. However, after three wild political battles, the Northern California (especially San Francisco), politicians won and the Hetch Hetchy Valley was dammed up to provide a water supply and hydroelectric power for growing San Francisco.

Source: John Muir National Historic Site
Received: July 21, 1994

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