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West Hills Farm – A Special Place to John Muir

The protection and addition of historic West Hills Farm to the John Muir National Historic Site creates the opportunity to expand both the Mount Wanda open space and an extensive trail system for recreation. Visitors enjoy stunning views of Briones Regional Park and the Alhambra Hills from the property’s hilltops --- similar to what John Muir and his family experienced in their lifetimes.

These 44 acres at the south end of Mount Wanda are part of the property that was known as John Swett’s Hill Girt Farm. Swett, one of John Muir’s closest friends, began his term as California’s fourth state superintendent of public instruction in 1863. He founded the California Educational Society. That organization became the California Teacher’s Association in 1875. Swett and his wife lived on his farm after retirement, specializing in grape and wine production.

John Strentzel, John Muir’s father-in-law, purchased property in the valley of Rancho Cañada del Hombre, originally a Mexican land grant, in April 1853. He left the gold fields to become a farmer. He described his first glance of the adapted property as a vivid picture of beauty and opportunity for the future.

Mrs. Strentzel preferred the name “Alhambra” and from then on the area was known as the Alhambra Valley. Strentzel managed the ranch until 1881 when John Muir married his daughter Louise. For many years afterward Muir blended his responsibilities at the ranch and to his family with writing and activist activities. When Muir returned home after weeks of travel, he enjoyed climbing the hills of the ranch with his two daughters, Wanda and Helen. Muir’s journal entries describe his delight for the tremendous scenic views from West Hills Farm.

Muir walked the farm’s trails with his daughters to admire the coast live oak, blue oak, valley oak, and bay trees that grow there, as well as the native shrubs, perennials, grasses and annual wildflowers that punctuate its grassy hillsides. He writes and shares his enthusiasm for the coming of spring and the bursts of buds from the trees.

In another journey entry, Muir marvels at trees in bloom and writes of his respect for a lizard making its home on West Hills Farm.

Your generous support helped complete this strategic ridgeline acquisition so future generations can enjoy the beauty of this area, with similar views as John Muir and his daughters experienced. Thank you!

Source: Cultural Landscape Report for the John Muir National Historic Site, Killion and Davison 2005, p. 30.