This week two cities on opposite sides of the pond celebrated the twinning of John Muir’s sauntering grounds – Dunbar and Martinez – and the famous conservationist who brought them together.
Muir wrote more than 300 articles and 12 books published in multiple languages heard around the world. He changed the way people thought about our most beautiful wild lands, and was a driving force in preserving them. In the United States, he is known as the Father of our National Park System. But in his home country of Scotland, few had ever heard of him.
Visitors from California to Dunbar in the mid-1900s were astonished that John Muir had no presence in his home country, even in his hometown. Indeed, he was in most ways forgotten.
Muir was born and lived in Dunbar for the first eleven years of his life, until his family left for Wisconsin. He visited his hometown in 1893, and corresponded with his friends and relatives there until his death in 1914. When that final tie with Dunbar was broken, memories of him faded.
A visit to Dunbar from Muir bibliographers and collectors William and Maymie Kimes in the 1960s started to turn things around. Their visit led to a plaque being placed on the wall of 126 High Street, the building in which Muir was born. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that Muir gained a significant presence in Dunbar, instigated by local official Frank Tindall. Tindall visited California and discovered Muir for himself. He then persuaded the East Lothian District Council (the county in which Dunbar is situated) to create a museum dedicated to John Muir. Meanwhile in Martinez, a handful of years earlier, the John Muir National Historic Site was established in 1964.
While planning the Dunbar museum, the East Lothian Council members and staff at the John Muir National Historic Site corresponded, leading to the idea of a “twinning” (in Dunbar parlance) of our cities.
In 1981, Dunbar’s John Muir Museum opened on the top floor of John Muir’s birthplace, and on April 18, 1981, Martinez Mayor Eric Shaffer signed a proclamation to establish Martinez and Dunbar as Sister Cities. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the alliance of the two historic towns.
Since then, many Dunbar citizens have worked hard to establish a permanent museum, not only to showcase Muir’s place in history, but also to serve as an influential interpretive center. In 2003, John Muir’s Birthplace Trust purchased the entire three-story building at 126 High Street and opened John Muir’s Birthplace.
Muir has become better known in his native country. Indeed, John Muir’s Birthplace had a very special visitor in February of 2008 – His Royal Highness Prince Charles.
While the Dunbar-Martinez Sister City link began with honoring Muir’s remarkable legacy, it has become a cultural exchange and an awareness of how much each town shares with the other. Visitor exchanges between the cities have increased, and a student exchange program continues.
John Muir’s Birthplace Trustee Will Collin describes the alliance as “a civic link, not simply a John Muir one. There are benefits for many areas of our two towns and surrounding districts, for example in education, cultural exchanges and tourism. Since its inception 30 years ago, the Dunbar-Martinez twinning has benefited from modern communication systems that have helped create and maintain both personal and organizational links.”
Dunbar has reached out to Martinez to exchange greetings on this historic occasion. The 5,000-mile gap between the cities is bridged by correspondence between the Dunbar Community Council and the Martinez City Council, as well as many civic organizations and churches. With this exchange of greetings, said Collin, “there may be ongoing communication leading who knows where.”
An exhibition marking the anniversary is being held in Dunbar. The exhibit features commemorative objects, messages from Martinez, and historic photographs of both towns selected by both the Dunbar and District History Society and the Martinez Historical Society.
The Martinez Museum will have an exhibit, scheduled to debut next week, featuring a photographic display of Dunbar and Martinez to celebrate the relationship between the cities and their citizens.
The City of Martinez is highlighting the 30th Anniversary by creating a Facebook page for posting commemorative photos and inviting “comments from around the world,” said Assistant City Manager Alan Shear.
The John Muir Association and the Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace exchanged greetings at the John Muir Birthday–Earth Day Celebration.