Mary Austin's Home (No. 229 California Historical Landmark)
California Historical Landmarks Program
Historical Landmarks are sites, buildings, features, or events that are of statewide significance and have anthropological, cultural, military, political, architectural, economic, scientific or technical, religious, experimental, or other value. Historical Landmarks are eligible for registration if they meet at least one of the following criteria:
1) Is the first, last, only, or most significant of its type in the state or within a large geographic region
2) Is associated with an individual or group having a profound influence on the history of California
3) Is a prototype of, or an outstanding example of, a period, style, architectural movement or construction or is one of the more notable works or the best surviving work in a region of a pioneer architect, designer or master builder.
California’s Landmark Program began in the late 1800s with the formation of the Landmarks Club and the California Historical Landmarks League. In 1931, the program became official when legislation charged the Department of Natural Resources—and later the California State Chamber of Commerce—with registering and marking buildings of historical interest or landmarks. The Chamber of Commerce then created a committee of prestigious historians, including DeWitt Hutchings and Lawrence Hill, to evaluate potential landmark sites.
In 1948, Governor Earl Warren created the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee to increase the integrity and credibility of the program. Finally, this committee was changed to the California Historical Resources Commission in 1974. Information about registered landmarks numbered 770 onward is kept in the California Register of Historical Resources authoritative guide. Landmarks numbered 669 and below were registered prior to establishing specific standards, and may be added to the California Register when criteria for evaluating the properties are adopted.
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The home located at 253 Market Street in Independence once belonged to notable local author, Mary Austin. Her family moved to the San Joaquin Valley in 1888 after she graduated from Blackburn College. Her father had been a Captain in the Civil War and chose California as the place to homestead. Originally Mary rebelled against moving to California. Upon her arrival, she developed a deep appreciation for the desert landscape and the people who lived there. Mary found the area both beautiful and therapeutic.
She began her writing career in 1900 with the publication of essays about the Owens Valley. Her first book published in 1903, “The Land of Little Rain,” is still in print and considered a piece of classic literature depicting the beauty of the Owens Valley. Mary held a fascination for the splendor of both the Owens Valley and the Southwest and wrote novels, essays, poetry and plays continuously to share the stories of the land and people from 1900 until her death in 1934. Her fascination led to 17 years of study to learn about the life of Native Americans living in the Mojave Desert.
She and her husband were involved in the Owens Valley Water Wars and lost the battle when Los Angeles began to divert water from the valley. Mary divorced her husband and moved to Carmel where she socialized with other notable authors such as Jack London, Ambrose Bierce and George Sterling. In 1910, while living in Carmel, Mary became one of the founders of the Historic Forest Theater in Carmel. This popular Carmel venue continues to produce live theater and is the oldest outdoor theater west of the Rockies.
You can find the historical marker in front of a private home at 253 Market Street in Independence.
Inyo means “dwelling place of great spirit” in Paiute Native American language. Inyo County has many “greats.” Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States and Death Valley, the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere, are both within Inyo’s boundaries. Great earthquakes have left their mark in recent history, changing the course of the Owens River and exposing ancient sedimentary rock.
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