By Luke Ellington


Timeline of Douglas

1883Douglas County established

Douglas townsite platted and named after county, Waterville wins county seat race

1887Douglas school begins classes
1904Approximately 75 residents
1905William Puffert builds general store currently owned by the Nelsons
1909Great Northern Railway’s Mansfield spur line begins operation
1915Douglas’s German Lutheran congregation builds Saint Paul’s Lutheran “kirche”
1985Mansfield spur line abandoned, trains stop running through town
PresentApproximately 30 residents

Founding Family Names

Many families and individuals took part in the formation of Douglas County settlements in the late 1800s. Some names appear in many historical accounts and biographical sketches, while others have been lost to time. These are some of the names which have survived in books about Douglas:

Cannon, Cloninger, Dale, Finch, Kelly, Kirchner, Lewis, Monk, Payne, Peters, Puffert, Steinke, Thompson, Westerman, Weyen, Willm, Witten, Wolverton, and Wright.

A Look Back

When Douglas County was formed in November of 1883, O’kanogan began serving as the county seat. Located just two miles north of what would become the Douglas community, O’kanogan was little more than Walter Mann’s tent home and a log courthouse. Wealthy investors and hopeful settlers acted quickly, and a store, saloon, and hotel were added. To the dismay of its benefactors, however, O’kanogan had no water under it. It was not uncommon for travelers to arrive there and find signs in windows declaring, “Gone for water, will be back in a week.”

Though account details differ, Ole Dale first took up residence in Douglas in 1884, and the quaint farming community began its formation. The Douglas townsite was platted in 1886, named after Stephan Arnold Douglas, like the county, with hopes to win county seat honors from O’kanogan.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons. Image by Robin)

The Story of Manford Payne (according to local lore…)

At one long-remembered frontier party in Douglas, a large cowboy named Manford Payne surprised everyone when he arrived. Manford’s father had shot and killed a man in Missouri and the family was on the run. They had taken up residence in Douglas, where they thought no one would ever find them. One day, however, two Spokane officers tracked down “Old Man” Payne and took him away. Manford let them get away from town, then strapped on his six-shooter and rode out after. He opened fire on the buckboard, killing one officer and his father. No one dared arrest Manford, and for years he was not seen without his holster. He eventually turned himself in, but no one could prove his crime. No one believed he would shoot his own father.

The first business in Douglas was Henry Thompson’s blacksmith shop. A handful of general stores and a drug store soon followed. In the spring of 1885, the residents of Douglas made a bold attempt to bring the county seat honors from O’kanogan to Douglas. Pressure from the townspeople was high and the board of county commissioners was persuaded into taking a direct vote to transfer the county seat title. Unfortunately for the Douglas community, which had not yet petitioned for incorporation, the illegal move was voted down by a two-vote majority. In 1886, Waterville, located four miles northwest of Douglas, won the race. O’kanogan quickly withered into obscurity. Its post office was transferred to nearby Douglas in 1888. That same year, the Douglas school was built with two classrooms. One room held grades one through four and the other held grades five through eight.

(Source: Blogger. Image by sdp45)

Though Douglas would never be the county seat, 1887 and 1888 were years of prosperity for most of its settlers. The gold rush on the Salmon River mines led optimistic miners from Ellensburg directly through the Douglas community.

The Willms, Wittens, Westermans, Kirchners, Monks, Weyens, and Peters’ chartered the first German Lutheran Church, erected in 1889. The church was built by its members with direction by William F. Puffert. Reverend M. Steinke built the altar, pulpit, and benches himself. In October of that year, a cemetery plat was filed for what has been referred to as Union Cemetery, Saint Pual’s Lutheran Cemetery, Douglas Lutheran Cemetery, and simply Douglas Cemetery.

(Source: North Central Washington Portal)

The fire of 1891 caused the destruction of many of the community’s original buildings, but the community was determined to continue. With a population near 75, the Douglas of 1904 had a general store, a hardware and implement store, a feed mill, two blacksmith shops, and the German Lutheran Church. The following year, William Puffert built the general store that has served a s a hub for Douglas activity.

A new church was built in 1915 and dedicated as Saint Paul’s Lutheran “Kirche,” which stands today. Saint Paul’s offered services in English and German. However, as the second generation of German immigrants in the Douglas community assimilated, fewer and fewer spoke their parents’ language. German services were discontinued prior to the 1940s. In the 1960s, the Douglas congregation merged with another in Waterville. The towering spire of this well-crafted church continues to dominate the landscape of the Douglas community.

Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church during 1914 construction

(Source: IRIS, Gathering Our Voice)

Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church during 1915 dedication, photo courtesy of IRIS

(Source: IRIS, Gathering Our Voice)

Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church today

traditional church building

Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church has been lovingly restored by the Douglas Community Historical Association. The white church, which is by far the tallest building in town, has been on the “National Register of Historic Places” since 1982. The church is currently available for tours and is rented out for weddings, reunions, and community events.

small general store with old fashioned writing reading Douglas General Store

Douglas General Store

School Livin’ is Easy

Near the end of the nineteenth century, one and two-room schools dotted rural countrysides. The teacher was often a female graduate of the eighth grade and was commonly younger than many of her male students. After riding horseback in a full dress to school, the teacher was responsible for lighting the school’s stove and ringing the school’s boisterous bell. Douglas’s schoolhouse was built in 1887. It is like many others of the era, except that it now serves as a permanent residence for one local family.

Douglas Schoolhouse today

The school was the third school in Douglas County and was used from 1887 to 1959, when students began to travel to Waterville. The Douglas school sat deserted until 1975 when a Mr. Gilda began changing it into a home and running an electrical repair shop out of his garage. Unfortunately, the school’s bell was stolen while Gilda was moving in. Gilda sold the school/home/shop in 1986, nearly 100 years after its construction. The two-room school is still divided into two main sections. A door in the living room leads to a gym occupying nearly half of this antique home’s space.

Carroll Gray Remembers the Depression in Douglas

“Mom was an expert at cutting out cardboard insoles for shoes that were worn through. We were not the only ones. Dad half-soled our shoes with rubber from old tires.”

“There was no inside plumbing. We used Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck catalogues.”

“My dad believed in the Golden Rule and had the idea that might be superior to organized religion.”

“Everyone had the measles, mumps and whooping cough. Flies abounded.”

“Everyone dumped their garbage in the ditch. Abandoned machinery and junk littered the vacant lot east of the MacDonalds. We had a pile of boards from a building my dad tore down. Cats overpopulated the town.”

The Douglas General Store has long been a landmark for many locals and passersby. Travelers between Waterville and Coulee City are no longer able to make the stop and belly-up to the soda bar. But the stories and the storefront endure.

a general store soda shop counter with customers talking and laughing with the servers behind the counter

Lee Nelson and Arlen Rankin serving customers in Douglas General Store

The people of Douglas, though many of them did not grow up there, love the small town atmosphere in which they live. The community’s only annual event, the Douglas Days Harvest Festival, is held the weekend after Labor Day and is now a simple barbeque lunch to raise funds for the local historical association. Douglas never boomed the way its pioneering founders wanted it to. Yet for this reason, it has retained the charming character that continues to draw new residents and admirers. The rich history of Douglas is forged by some of Douglas County’s founding families, without whom a historical account of the county would be incomplete.

Farm Equipment Donations

The Douglas Community Historical Association would appreciate any donations of old farm equipment. Mailing address to contact: Douglas Community Historical Association, PO Box 822, Waterville, WA 98858.

Old farm equipment with barrels planters with trees in them

(Source: Wikimedia Commons. Image by RJHall)