Three San Francisco Sightseeing Stops Not to Miss

For those with the opportunity to visit San Francisco, California..one of the unique cities in the U.S… they will not find a shortage of historic, fun and one of a kind sites to visit. In this article we wanted to highlight three of these sites...Nob Hill…the Cable Car Museum and the World War Two submarine, U.S.S. Pampanito.

nob hill hotels

Fairmont Hotel,, San Francisco, CA

Nob Hill

The Nob Hill area came into being in the late 1800’s when the city of San Francisco was growing rapidly. New neighborhoods were being created every year and would eventually reach westward all the way to the Pacific Ocean.Nob Hill was originally the location where wealthy San Franciscan’s once desired to build their mansions.

The views from Non Hill were second to none. From Nob Hill you could have great views of both the city and bay.

The Fairmont Hotel

One of the most well known hotels on Nob Hill is the Fairmont. This outside of this hotel has been seen featured in movies and television over many years. The Fairmont Hotel was still in it’s final construction stage when the great earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed San Francisco.

After the earthquake, the building itself remained intact. The interior however was severely damaged by fire and as a result the hotel’s opening was pushed back one year until 1907. During this time the building was also reinforced with concrete that could help it survive another earthquake. For those wondering how the hotel received it’s name, it was named after U.S. Senator James Graham Fair. It so happened the hotel was constructed by his daughters, Virginia Fair Vanderbilt and Theresa Fair Oelrichs.

The Mark Hopkins Hotel

Another well known hotel you’ve most likely heard of is the Mark Hopkins. The Mark Hopkins Hotel had a very different history than it’s neighbor the Fairmont. The land where the Mark Hopkins sits was at one time the home of Mark Hopkins, one of the Big Four investors and founders of the famous Central Pacific Railroad.It was the Central Pacific which met the Union Pacific in Utah to form the nation’s first transcontinental railroad.

Cable Car Museum

If you have an opportunity to visit San Francisco, one very fun and educational stop to make is the Cable Car Museum. There is no charge to visit the museum.The Cable Car Museum not only showcases vintage San Francisco cable cars, cable car mechanisms and their fascinating history but also lets you see for yourself just how the system operates today.

cable car museum photos

Power House at Cable Car Museum

The museum is also a cable car power house which operates the underground cable system today. The museum is obviously unique where you can get a feel for the old cable car days as well as the ones you ride today.

The power house itself is off limits to visitors, there are two galleries which allow you to see the cables and machinery in action. There is also an area underground where visitors can see the cables operating under Washington and Mason Streets pulling along the cable cars up above.

The Cable Car Museum is truly one of the most unique you’ll come across during your travels.

 

 

You may also enjoy the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

One of a Kind Stops Along Old Route 66

See the USS Midway / San Diego’s Premiere Attraction

Submarine Museum / U.S.S. Pampanito

If touring an old World War Two diesel submarine interests you than be sure to see the U.S.S. Pampanito. Located at Fisherman’s Wharf, this submarine is open for tours inside the submarine from front to back. The USS Pampanito is a treasure and has quite a patrol record in the Pacific during the war. This self guided tour will give you a great feel for what it was like serving on her and living in cramped quarters for extended periods.

world war two submarines

World War Two submarine U.S.S. Pampanito

The history of the U.S.S. Pampanito is as follows… The vessel was built in 1943 at the Navy Yards in Portsmouth New Hampshire. The cost of her construction was six million dollars which was quite a lot of money in the early 40’s but probably sounds like a rock bottom bargain price for a submarine today. The Pampanito is 311 ft 9 inch in length and her beam is 27 ft 3 in. Her typical crew compliment was 70 enlisted men and 10 officers.

The submarine’s operating depth was about 400 feet and her speed was 21 knots on the surface and about 9 knots while submerged.

After the Pampanito’s shakedown cruise in the Atlantic, the new submarine headed directly for Pearl Harbor via the Panama Canal and arrived there in February 1944. Her deployment therefore was during the latter part of the Pacific War. Between 1944-45 the Pampanito completed six war patrols in the Pacific Theater. There are maps that show the areas of each one of her patrols.

(Article and photos copyright 2016 Trips Into History)

Rancher Women of America’s Old West

When the American Civil War ended, the era of the big western ranches began. There were large ranches prior to the war but not many. The King Ranch of southeast Texas is probably the largest ranch of note prior to the war. Being located in Texas at the time of the war, the King Ranch and it’s owner, Richard King, were indeed involved in the conflict.

old ranch bunkhouse

Cowboy bunkhouse exhibit from old Goodnight Ranch

King’s ranch was raided several times by Union forces in Texas. They considered it a stopping off site for traveling and resupply for Confederate forces. In fact, Union forces arrived at one time with orders for Kings arrest. Lucky for King he was learned in advance of the raid and fled.

Female Contributions to the Western Expansion / Rancher Women of the Old West

Women were certainly a part of the western frontier and they made very important contributions. There are some interesting stories about the introduction of women on the American western frontier and particularly as wives of ranchers. The women we are referring to here are not the typical cowgirls.

What the frontier woman did do was work hard in difficult settings and contributed in a big way to the civilizing of the west. To understand the settling of the American frontier outside of Hollywood stereotypes, a look at how the wives of ranch owners adapted to their new surroundings is quite enlightening. The presence of someone in the old west who could cause a cowboy to act more gentlemanly had to be appreciated.

cattle drive cowboys

Cattle drive structure

For the most part, women married to ranchers were brought into the frontier “after” the male established himself. Conditions were rough in the decade after the Civil War and the man striving to get a herd together and start a ranch had all he could do to provide suitable living conditions for himself.

Most aspiring ranchers thought the conditions just too harsh and dangerous for their wife or new bride. The idea at the time was to establish oneself in the ranching industry and then return to one’s hometown to find yourself a bride, or if you had a wife, make arrangements to take her out west. This was the beginning of adventure for many a frontier woman.

Mrs. Charles Goodnight

In the book Cattle Kingsby author Lewis Atherton, several observations are made as to the type of woman that a rancher seemed to gravitate towards. For the most part, they chose a like minded wife. The rancher himself was a strong individualist, one of the reasons he turned to ranching in the first place, and many times this was the type of partner they preferred.

A good example was Charles Goodnight, one of the more successful ranchers in the Texas Panhandle region. Before settling in Texas, Goodnight established a ranch in Colorado and married for the first time only after the ranch was operating. Mrs. Goodnight was an adventuresome pioneer woman and the ranch life in Colorado seemed to satisfy her. Everything however was disrupted due to the  financial panic of 1873. This  bankrupted the Goodnights. While Charles took care of the ranch debts he sent his wife to live in California.

Rancher Charles Goodnight planned on reestablishing himself of which he eventually did in the area of Pala Duro Canyon, just outside present day Amarillo, Texas.

Not shying away from adventure it seems that Mrs. Goodnight spent much of her time as a frontier woman patching the clothes of cowboys and tending to the small and non-luxurious home. Mrs. Goodnight did enjoy adventure and didn’t shy away from the hardship remote living brought. Futures were not guaranteed. The hope was that after a few years of hard work in inhospitable surroundings, prosperity would eventually come and the days ahead would be better. Ranching was a gamble and the rancher preferred a wife who understood the situation.

How successful a rancher was pretty much dictated what the rancher’s wife had to endure. The wives of some of the bigger ranchers no doubt had workers present who do a lot of the chores for them. In other cases, life could be tough.  Cooking, sewing, fetching what water was available for washing and in many cases helping her husband with regular cowboy duties could be required. It really was a life of voluntary sacrifice with the hope of better days ahead.

Alice Littlefield

Another western rancher of the post Civil War era was George Littlefield. The ranch / farm was in the area of Gonzales Texas.

In the year 1869 the Littlefields were struggling earning about $150 per year by farming. Littlefield was an ex Confederate officer and Mrs. Littlefield came from a southern plantation and was accustomed to rural life. Becoming a frontier woman may not have represented that big of a change.

xit cowboys

XIT Ranch Cowboys

Alice Littlefield lived a tough life on the Littlefield farm but circumstances changed dramatically after they became involved in cattle ranching. The Littlefields represented what the successful, and perhaps lucky, rancher could achieve.

Over the early 1870’s Littlefield drove cattle to Kansas rail heads and expanded his enterprise. Over the years he had several ranches throughout Texas and into New Mexico with the LIT being one of his biggest. At one time his cattle branded LFD grazed over an area of Eastern New Mexico the size of the state of Rhode Island.

Alice enjoyed being involved with philanthropy and was responsible to a large degree for George’s many charitable contributions. The Littlefields were one of the founders of the University of Texas in Austin. The Littlefields had two children but unfortunately both were lost during infancy. Most likely as a result of their misfortune they were very close to his extended family, paying for the college education for all of his many nieces and nephews.

You may also enjoy the Trips Into History Stories on the links below…

The National Ranching Heritage Center

Battle of Pala Duro Canyon Texas

 

Excellent Venues to Learn About the Frontier Ranch Life

The National Cowboy Western & Heritage Museum- Oklahoma City, OK

The King Ranch Museum- South of Corpus Christi, Texas

The National Ranching Heritage Center- Lubbock, TX

MacGregor Ranch Museum- Estes Park, CO

The Farm and Ranch Museum- Elk City, OK

New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum- Las Cruces, NM

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)

One Of A Kind Trip Stops Along Old Route 66

Old Route 66

The old Route 66 is one of the most historic drives in North America. this highway stretching from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California in many ways tells the story of the modern day expansion across America’s Southwest. Over the decades portions of  Route 66 were altered and with the beginning of the Interstate highway system, a good portion of the Mother Road was lost altogether.

amarillo route 66The western road traveler can still find substantial portions of the old Mother Road in several states. The longest uninterrupted section being found in western Arizona. Many old landmarks remain and the signage you’ll see on the Interstates are pretty good in pointing them out.

During the heyday of Route 66 travel, motels sprang up right and left. Prior to the Interstate Highway System, Route 66 was the main artery into the southwest and into California. Thousands of people traveled the Mother Road to California during the Great Depression as was chronicled in John Steinbeck‘s 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath.

Route 66 was the trail out of the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s and hopefully to a new start and employment in California.

old route 66 bridges

Old Route 66 bridge west of Albuquerque, NM

Surviving Landmarks Along Today’s Route 66

Some of the Route 66 landmarks still remaining include bridges, abandoned service  This applies to towns and cities all along Interstate 40 from Oklahoma all the way to the West Coast. When you exit the Interstates and take a short drive through many of these towns there is quite a lot of old history to explore. Along this stretch of Interstate 40 you’ll find that the original old route still runs through the center of many towns and cities, usually as main street. This is true even though the Interstate itself passes either north or south of the town.

Theaters

When Route 66 was being developed during the 1920’s, the movie theater industry was expanding. As a result there still remains many old theater buildings along old Route 66 with the type of architecture you don’t see too often today. Some theaters of note along the way include the Kimo Theater on old Route 66 in downtown Albuquerque New Mexico. The Kimo’s art deco style is very unique.

The Kimo design  is actually Art Deco blended in to the Southwest style. Many believe that the Kimo Theater is Albuquerque’s most popular landmark. The city purchased the theater in 1977 to keep it from being demolished. There have been several renovations and today the Kimo Theater is open showing films, featuring live plays and is also used for various private and civic functions.

albuquerque historic landmarks

Kimo Theater, Albuquerque, NM

Amarillo Texas also offers an historic old movie theater. The Paramount Theater was located in the southern section of downtown Amarillo about one block off old Route 66. The Paramount Theater was built in 1932. Similar to many large theaters built in this period, The Paramount Theater included a wide-set staircase with covered with maroon carpeting as it curved to the upper balcony seating area. The theater could seat 1,200 beneath a blue sunburst design on the ceiling. The one large screen was behind heavily draped curtains and gold framing. The Paramount in Amarillo charged fifteen cents for admission when it opened for business during the Great Depression. The Paramount Theater building still sports it’s marquee and definitely worth a drive by when passing through downtown Amarillo, Texas. Today the handsome and historic structure serves as an office building.

Grants, New Mexico is also the site of an old rundown theater that was built during the Great Depression in 1937. The theater is found along the main street through town which happens to be old Route 66. Grants is located about 79 miles west of Albuquerque via Interstate 40. The Lux Theater was capable of seating some 500 plus patrons

Much of the structure which is situated in a strip of three buildings is now boarded up but the marquee and old neon tubing remains. The theater was built when a great many people traveled Route 66, many heading west to California looking for employment.

Historic Hotels

East of Flagstaff you’ll find a luxury hotel, La Posada, directly on old Route 66 in Winslow Arizona. The La Posada was originally built by Fred Harvey and the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.It was and still remains a popular and historic destination.

This Route 66 landmark was originally built next to the Winslow train station in 1929. Winslow was chosen as an ideal site for another Harvey House because it’s location in Winslow is a days drive or less from many popular northern Arizona tourist destinations  including the Grand Canyon to the west and Navajo Reservation just to the north. The La Posada Harvey House could attract travelers from either the railroad line or old Route 66. The AT & SF railroad operated the hotel for twenty-seven years and then closed it to the public in 1957.

old harvey house hotels

Interior of La Posada Hotel, Winslow, AZ

The future of the structure was of course in doubt when the railroad gave it up. The fear of many was that the building might be torn down. Efforts were underway to preserve it. The National Trust for Historic Preservation became aware of the situation and became involved. Fortunately, the La Posada Hotel was purchased by a small group that restored the hotel to it’s grand condition.

The hotel is very popular today with many making it a regular stop when traveling through Winslow. If you travel on Interstate 40, you will enjoy stopping at Winslow and visiting and/or lodging at this historic hotel. If you’re traveling on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, the train makes a scheduled stop at the hotel.

There’s plenty of interesting sites to see along the old Route 66. If you haven’t driven this historic route yet we recommend it as a fun and educational family trip.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)

Cowboys , Outlaws and the Dime Novels

Cowboys and Outlaws

To say that literature describes the old west cowboy in different ways is a true understatement. Add television to the mix and the cowboy life is portrayed in an even wider range. Whether the cowboy was written of in the nineteenth or twentieth century makes little difference. There are many story lines attached to the cowboy…some very true and others total fabrication.Was it a romantic life, a hard and dirty job or perhaps something in between.

cattle drive structure

Cattle drive structure

In many ways the same holds true for the portrayal of outlaws. Literature has portrayed the old west outlaw from a romantic Robin Hood type character to a murderous psychopath.

There are questions to be asked. The questions are…who really was the American cowboy and what was the cowboy life really like? What was the difference between outlaws and cowboys? In some cases maybe no differences. In others, total differences. The biographies of these two type individuals often intersect. While there have been inaccurate portrayals written about both, the largest inaccuracies have probably been written about the cowboys. There was a great deal published about the subject during the latter part of the 1800’s and, in a way, literature often helped shape events. In fact, successful western literature in the latter 1800’s was similar to what sells today on bookshelves. The wild west was wild, but perhaps not as wild as often presented to sell books and movie tickets.

western ghost townsWhat Author’s of the Era Wrote

The Dime Novel depicted both outlaws and cowboys as a wild bunch. In Lewis Atherton’s book, The Cattle Kings, the author points out that Mark Twain himself described the cowboy as more gunman than ranch worker.

Roughing It

Twain worked for a time at the Virginia City Enterprise, Nevada Territory’s first newspaper.  Twain wrote glamorizing accounts of the western cowboy. Twains experience in Virginia City gave him the background to write a book, Roughing It, in 1872 which was the real start of his literary career. In his book, Mark Twain makes mention of bad men stalking the streets and moving easily from ranch to mining camp. Twain describes them as wearing long coats, cocked hats and revolvers. He goes on to further describe them as brave and reckless fellows who traveled with their life in their hands and who did their killing most within their own circles. They thought it shameful to die with their boots off.

All of this was Mark Twain’s account of the outlaw of the west. While this account stirs interest among readers, it also omits quite a bit of factual information. Nevertheless, this type of literature sold well. Twain was describing the outlaw, not the cowboy.. Although somewhat similar in appearance to the cowboy, the outlaw or bad man was an entirely different individual.

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Old JA Ranch Bunkhouse

The Big Bonanza

There was a book written by the senior editor of the Virginia City Enterprise, Dan De Quille. The book was encouraged by Mark Twain who urged De Quille to write a factual account of life in the Virginia City mining town. De Quille did publish his book in 1876 titled, The Big Bonanza. De Quille basically agreed with Twain’s account with the exception that he didn’t glamorize the violence. Instead, he denounced it and the men who caused it. It’s not surprising to note that Dan De Quille’s more realistic account didn’t sell as well as did Twain’s book.

According to the book, Cattle Kings, another book, Historic Sketches of the Cattle Trade of the West and Southwest, this one written by a Joseph G. McCoy who is credited with bringing ranchers and cattle buyers together in Abilene Kansas, described the cowboy and his dress in colorful terms.

McCoy wrote that..mounted and drunken, they charged wildly through the streets, shooting up the town as they went, or rode directly through the swinging doors of saloons to demand drinks at pistol point. Literature published by both Mark Twain and Joseph McCoy, attached a code of reckless action by the cowboy in the 1870’s that gave or proposed a style of behavior for new cowboys to emulate. This was a mixing of the cowboy and outlaw culture and I think gives the wrong impression of the cowboy. It has been written however that serious individuals who entered the ranching world in the late 1870’s and 1880’s actually found this much publicized code of conduct either humorous or irritating. Although colorful, it wasn’t necessarily accurate.

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XIT Ranch cowboys

What the Ranchers Had to Say About Cowboys

If you really want to find an accurate account of the cowboys of the old west, there is probably no better source than ranchers of the era. First of all, ranchers were not selling books. They were in the business of raising and selling cattle and anything that would disturb that process was unwelcome. Ranchers employed cowboys and at the same time laid down the rules. In fact, ranchers operated in areas far removed from the courts and oftentimes lawmen. The ranchers were in the position to make the laws and enforce them. Some ranchers were small operators and others large corporate concerns. One of the largest, the XIT in the Texas Panhandle, employed about 150 cowboys during it’s peak years.

Was the Cowboy Armed or Unarmed?

Contrary to many of the Hollywood westerns, many ranchers didn’t carry firearms and had rules against their ranch hands carrying guns. Carrying a six shooter was the exception rather than the rule. One of the reasons mentioned for this was the idea that an armed man sent an unspoken message. An armed man would be much more likely to be involved in some sort of violence than an unarmed one. The sometimes controversial “code of the west” prohibited the shooting of an unarmed individual. Most ranch owners simply felt that a sixshooter could only lead to trouble and especially so when mixed with alcohol. This was something detrimental to running a cattle business and was highly discouraged.

The famed Texas rancher, Charles Goodnight, presents a good example of ranching law and order. In the book, Cattle Kings, Goodnight was said to have ordered his cowboys to keep their differences under control while working his long cattle drives. He stipulated that his outfit would hold an immediate trial and hanging of anyone found guilty of committing murder. This reportedly worked effectively for Goodnight. As far as he was concerned, the cowboy could go settle his differences, but not while working on one of his drives. While working on the ranch itself, Goodnight forbade drinking, gambling and swearing.

The above mentioned book also describes how a ranch manager by the name of John Clay handled differences among his employees. Clay was known to settle differences by persuasion. This usually worked. Clay was said to have carried a firearm only once when unruly cowhands ran off one of his supervisors. Again, firearms on the ranch was an exception.

Teddy Roosevelt, when spending time ranching in the Dakota Territory, wrote of his experience and concluded that people had little to fear about murder in the west as long as they minded their business and stayed out of barrooms. Barrooms of the old west being the natural habitat of outlaw and alcohol. Regarding cowboys, Roosevelt pointed out their rough language but contended that it was little different than when any group of all males got together. There was no mention made of shooting up the town.

The Real Bad Men of the West

While the cowboy certainly was spirited, he was also a very hard worker. Many old west cowboys of the late 1800’s were mere teens. Working cattle drives was difficult work and required good physical conditioning. To understand the physical conditioning required to carry out the cowboy’s job, just visit one of the many rodeos held throughout the country and you can see for yourself what was involved.

When cattle drives ended at rail heads such as Abilene, Kansas and later Dodge City ,Kansas, there was a lot of steam to be let off and the cowboys had their pay. You could say it was a time of planned rowdiness. This type of activity was in stark contrast to the western outlaw who would be more apt to target the cowboy.

Again, the ranching industry was involved with the criminal element as well. The western outlaw or gunslinger really came to the forefront after the American Civil War. This was the era of the James Gang, the Daltons, Sam Bass, Butch Cassidy and others. In the case of the James Gang, much of their violence was attributed to lingering hatred from Civil War days, although that is an arguable point. What is significant is that none of the stories about the above mentioned outlaws had a good ending.

sam bass round rock texas

Outlaw Sam Bass who was shot and killed in Round Rock, TX

The Rustler Outlaw

The biggest bane to the cattle rancher was the rustler. Cattle associations were established to, among other things, deal with rustlers and old west outlaws.

Cattle associations went as far as employing range detectives who many times themselves had prior brushes with the law. Cattle associations themselves were responsible for violence when it came to the rustler, or alleged rustler, such as in the case of the Johnson County War in Wyoming. Rustlers were dealt with severely and quickly and in some cases the ranchers may have hung the wrong person in the rush for justice.

Vigilance Committees

The more you read about the subject of lawlessness in frontier or cattle towns, the more you realize that it was a short lived event. Many old western towns had vigilance committees that dealt with the criminal element their own way. The criminal element the committees were targeting were not drunken cowboys having a good time after trail drives. From vigilance committees came formal law enforcement and often times the two operated simultaneously. It was true that the great majority of murders committed in the old west were between members of the lower element. One reason was that if a rancher or land owner, someone of rank within the community were killed by a gunman, certain retribution was sure to come.

great train robberyWhen one gunman killed another gunman, many in the community were actually glad there was one less outlaw. Stagecoach and train robberies of course did effect law abiding citizens and it took little effort to organize a posse to go in pursuit. In addition to this, if you happened to rob a bank or a train you could be assured to have the Pinkertons on your trail brought in by banking associations.

Outlaws, gunmen, rustlers and others were simply detrimental to business and settlement. The American west was all about business and settlement. It is for this reason that the criminal element was dealt with firmly and swiftly, whether it be by a sheriff, a vigilance committee or the Pinkertons. Sometimes all three working together. To be sure, lawlessness in the frontier town ended more sooner than later.

The dime novels often paint the life of the cowboy and the outlaw with the same broad brush. This is especially true about the carrying and use of firearms. While this portrayal might spice up the mundane, hard working life of the cowboy, there was no similarity between cowboy, outlaw or gunslinger.

The cowboy could be rowdy as Teddy Roosevelt pointed out, but he would be more inclined to be pulling practical jokes and bragging rather than to break the law. Were there bad cowboys? Certainly. Ranchers were quite aware of this. Did some cowboys become outlaws later? Yes. An interesting fact taken from Dodge City Kansas records of 1872 says a lot about the cowboy. It was 1872 that the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad reached Dodge City making it an important cattle drive rail head. During that year there were a total of twenty-five murders that occurred during fights. Out of the total of twenty-five only one involved a cowboy.

See additional Trips Into History and Western Trips Articles on the Links Below…

The Saints Roost Western Museum in Clarendon, TX

See the Famous Goodnight Ranch House in Goodnight, Texas

Visit Historic Round Rock, Texas

Museums and Venues to Add to Your Next Trip Itinerary

The National Ranching Heritage Center – Lubbock, TX

National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum – Oklahoma City, OK

The XIT Museum – Dalhart, TX

King Ranch Museum – Kingsville, TX

Saints Roost Museum – Clarendon, TX

Black American West Museum – Denver, CO

The Rex Allen Museum – Willcox, AZ

Desert Caballeros Western Museum – Wickenburg, AZ

The Western Heritage Museum & Lea County Cowboy Hall of Fame – Hobbs, NM

(Article copyright Trips Into History)

 

A Day at Muir National Historic Site / Plan Your Trip

A visit to the John Muir Historic Site is a must visit for anyone visiting the San Francisco Bay Area. Many of San Francisco’s attractions are located on it’s peninsula or across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. The John Muir Historic Site is located in Martinez, California, about a 36 mile drive to the east and northeast of the city. To drive there will take a special effort but the drive is very well worth the time.

john muir home photo

John Muir Home

Directions from San Francisco is as follows : Eastbound I-80 (Oakland – San Francisco Bay Bridge) to eastbound Highway 4. Exit at Alhambra Avenue, turning left at bottom of the ramp. Cross beneath highway. The park is immediately on your left.

At one point in his life, John Muir lived in Martinez, California and worked as a farmer. Some may not be aware of this fact since Muir is best known as being a preservationist and the founder of the Sierra Club. Muir was born in 1838 in Dunbar Scotland and migrated with his family to Wisconsin in 1849.

The John Muir National Historic Site is located in Martinez, whose land at one time was part of a large land grant doled out by the Spaniards and Mexicans. Large land grants were awarded throughout the Spanish and Mexican ruled territory.  The original Martinez land grant covered some 17,000 acres and reach as far as the San Francisco Bay.

muir historic site martinez california

Solarium in Muir Home

Dr. John Strentzel

Dr. John Strentzel, a noted horticulturist in Alhambra Valley, near Martinez and father-in-law of John Muir. was the owner and builder, in 1882, of the Victorian Italianate mansion which you can now tour. Later, this mansion served as the home of John Muir.

When the Strentzels resided in the mansion, John Muir and his wife resided in a Dutch Colonial home about a mile from the mansion. Muir was very active in his father in-law’s fruit orchard. When Dr. Strenzel passed away in 1890, the Muirs moved into the larger home.

This land in the Alhambra Valley was utilized as orchards. This small area of northern California had an ideal climate for orchards. Industry came to the area about the time of Muir’s death in 1914. This really marked the start of the decline of the orchard industry. California grew very fast during the mid to latter half of the twentieth century and the land increased greatly in value. As a result, much of the orchard land was sold to make way for development. What were once orchards is now dotted with homes, a story familiar to most of the area east of San Francisco and Oakland.

The Mansion

When John Muir died in 1914, his wife had passed away previous to that time, the original furniture from the mansion was removed by Muir’s two daughters. The National Park Service, with the help of Muir’s daughter Helen, refurnished the home with period furniture.

Washington palms are on both sides of the mansions entrance. These are members of the only native species  in California. There is also a Canary Island palm that grows next to the Muir house.

Touring the Muir Home

The first thing you want to do when visiting this historic site is to begin at the visitor center and watch the twenty minute film.

The Muir Home tour will show you the West Parlor (the formal parlor) , the Library, the Kitchen and Dining Room, the East Parlor and the Hall and Upstairs area. The second floor contains a series of bedrooms including that of John Muir’s, bathrooms and Muir’s Study and Study Annex.

You may also enjoy the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

A Visit to San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill

Visit Old Town Sacramento / The Steamboats

California and the Old Spanish Missions

The Adobe Structure

There is an adobe structure on the property. This adobe structure was built on the property in 1849 by Don Vicente Martinez, the son of the commandante of the Presidio of San Francisco. The adobe which you can see today was never lived in by John Muir and his wife but was the home at one time of Muir’s eldest daughter Wanda and her husband.

muir orchards and grounds

Hiking trail at Muir National Historic Site

Touring the Grounds

When you follow the trail through the historic site, in addition to the Muir Home and the Martinez Adobe, there is plenty to see. The three separate areas include the Victorian garden, the orchard and the natural area by Franklin Creek. There is a self cell phone tour of the grounds. You may also wish to explore the hills where John Muir hiked with his two daughters. Mount Wanda is open daily sunrise to sunset and many enjoy picnics on this hill. Seasonal wildflower walks, camp fire programs, bird walks and full moon walks are available on Mt. Wanda. The visitor center will have information on all activities.

(Article and photos copyright 2015 Trips Into History)