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Inside John Muir's Mansion | Bartell's Backroads

The father of the National Park Service started out poor but lived a life of luxury in Northern California during his later years.

MARTINEZ, Calif — Just off a busy street in Martinez, California is a mansion that belonged to one of America's greatest naturalists, John Muir. He’s known as the father of the National Park Service

Among his many talents, Muir was a writer, explorer, and an advocate for conserving nature. His influential writing helped protect and create multiple national parks. Those wanting a deeper look at his life can tour his home at the John Muir National Historic Site.

In his younger years, Muir was not a wealthy man. He spent most of his life as a vagabond, working odd jobs to fund his wilderness adventures. At the age of 42, he married into money. 

“His wife’s name was Louie Muir Strentzel, and the Strentzel family were very resilient and strong Gold Rush pioneers,” said Park Guide Ives Humphreys.

Muir helped manage the Strentzel family's fruit ranch in Martinez and lived with them in their massive 10,000-square-foot mansion. 

“John Muir spent the last 24 years of his life writing his major books,” said Humphreys. 

Inside the lavish home, you will get a look at some of the luxuries the wealthy family enjoyed while expanding their prosperous fruit orchards. 

“They started with 26 acres of experimental fruit and it expanded to four square miles reaching all the way to the California Delta,” said Humphrey.

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Upstairs you will get to see the office where John Muir did all his writing. He called it the Scribble Den because when writing his books and magazine articles he often used the floor as a filing cabinet. 

“He was quite the messy writer,” said Humphreys.

Muir wasn’t just a writer, he was also an inventor. There is a collection of his blueprints on display. One that catches many people's eyes is an invention he called the “Loafer's Chair,” a device that was supposed to motivate lazy people. 

“The gun goes off under the chair and the person jumps up,” said Humphreys. “It was a practical joke!”

Just above John Muir’s writing den is the bell tower where he could watch over the work being done in the orchards, and if you come in during harvest season you can pick and eat some of the experimental fruit. 

Even after John Muir passed away in 1914, his family turned his journals into books. His legacy lives on today at this national historic site, and all national parks across America.

FIND MORE FAMOUS FARMERS ON THE BACKROADS: Visit legendary author Jack London's 'Pig Palace' and other oddities on his Glen Ellen farm.

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