After Muir’s family emigrated to the USA in 1849, his mother and older sisters kept in touch by letter with relatives and friends back in Dunbar. Following his visit to Scotland in 1893, he also corresponded with a number of Dunbar folk but his death in 1914 brought an end the last of these links. Through time Muir was virtually forgotten in Scotland, even here in Dunbar.
In the 1960s, a visit from Muir bibliographers Bill and Maymie Kimes led to a plaque being placed on the wall of his birthplace at 126 High Street. Then in the 1970s East Lothian’s head of environment Frank Tindall visited California and discovered Muir for himself. On his return, he persuaded East Lothian District Council to take out a lease of the top floor of 126/8 High Street and, with the help of owner Daisy Hawryluk, a John Muir museum was created.
It was while a dialogue regarding the setting up of the museum was being conducted between East Lothian’s council and the John Muir National Historic Site (JMNHS) in Martinez that a twinning link between Dunbar and Martinez was mooted. John Muir had married Louie Strentzel, daughter of a Martinez fruit farmer, in 1880 and from then until his death in 1914 the town was his home base. Fifty years later his house and part of the farm became the JMNHS. Dunbar’s John Muir Museum was opened in 1981 and on 18 April of the same year Martinez mayor Eric Schaefer publicly proclaimed Martinez and Dunbar ‘sister cities’.
Martinez, with a population of just over 35,000, is the county seat of Contra Costa County in northern California. It lies on the north of the San Francisco Bay Area, 30 miles from San Francisco. As befits a seat of county administration, one of the main sources of employment is local government. However, its major employer is a Royal Dutch Shell oil refinery. It is also a transport hub and retail centre. Among the leisure pursuits are sailing, golf, music and walking. The Martinez Bocce Association, with over 1,500 registered players, is the largest in the USA.
In the years since 1981, connections between the towns have been fairly tenuous, largely a trickle of personal visits, but recently there has been a considerable increase. In 2004 Dunbar Grammar School began its biennial visits to California, the most recent in June 2010, through which over 100 senior students and 20 adults have spent time in Martinez. In 2007 Friends and Birthplace staff member Pauline Smeed spent a month at the JMNHS in Martinez and this led to close links between a number of organisations in the two towns, particularly Friends and the John Muir Association in Martinez, and the History Societies in the two towns.
However, the Dunbar-Martinez twinning is a civic link, not simply a John Muir one. Connections are currently being made between the schools in Martinez and those in the Dunbar & East Linton area. The Rotary Clubs in the two towns are hoping to arrange an exchange in the near future and churches in Dunbar and Martinez are reaching across the 5,000 miles between the two communities, while correspondence is being exchanged between Dunbar Community Council and Martinez City Council. Partners in these and other links are aiming to exchange greetings on or around 21 April as are individuals who have made friends through the 30 year-old twinning link. Why don’t you join in! For further information, etc, contact Will Collin on (01368) 863162 or will…@…
 Bocce is like petanque and a relation of bowls.
Note: This article is from the April 2011 issue of the FoJMB Newsletter [please see the Newsletters Archive for the link]