“My roots are deep in this prairie. I am part of the rhythm of the place — of the mornings just before and after sunrise, when grass shrubs and trees are bejeweled; of the evenings when the grosbeaks swoop low and feed on insects and the doe deer and the porcupine silently emerge from the woods to visit the clover.”
— Justice William O. Douglas writing about Goose Prairie in his autobiography, “Go East, Young Man”
Far from the marble halls of power in America’s highest court, Justice William O. Douglas found respite in a cabin in the forests of western Yakima County.
At the house centered around a massive basalt fireplace and stocked with most of the many books he began writing in the late 1930s, Douglas immersed himself in the wilderness he loved so much. He spent hours hiking the forests and the fields, just as he had most of his life, relishing the majesty and the silence of the outdoors.
Douglas, the longest- serving member of the U.S. Supreme Court, purchased the first portions of the L-shaped property in 1963. He knew it well — several of his more than 40 books mention the Goose Prairie area, where he hiked during his youth.
Built in the summers of 1964 and 1965, the cabin sits on eight acres near the unincorporated community of Goose Prairie, approximately 41 miles west of Yakima, where he grew up. With its original kitchen and bathroom cabinets, hardware, sinks and wallpaper, the cabin looks much like it did in the years that Douglas owned it until his death in 1980.
Members of the Washington State Advisory Council on Historic Preservation voted Friday to add the cabin to the Washington Heritage Register, an official listing of historically significant sites and properties throughout the state. They also voted to recommend it for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
The National Park Service has the final say, with a decision expected in about 60 days, noted Michael Houser, state architectural historian. He doesn’t anticipate any issues.
“It’s a great property. It’s kind of a different … take on a cabin,” Houser said of the 2,000-square-foot structure built by Al Kokenge.
Designed in the Modern style by architect Thomas F. Hargis Jr., it features an open floor plan and open stairwell, built-in bookcases and closets, an emphasis on natural materials such as the basalt of the fireplace and the knotty pine boards on the walls and ceilings and an impressive south facade of full-height, fixed picture windows that showcase the open prairie and mountains beyond.
“Widely recognized as the foremost champion of the Nation’s wilderness-preservation and environmental protection movements in his heyday, Douglas’ Goose Prairie cabin, a place he loved, serves as the embodiment of Douglas’ wilderness-experience and his environmental-protection efforts,” the National Register nomination form notes.
“It also serves as the best and only place in Washington State directly connected to his life.”
Owner Michael Hoge of Seattle, a native of Yakima who has long admired Douglas, bought the property five years ago. It included many mementos from Douglas’ world travels from the late 1940s through the early 1970s and retains most of its original features and fixtures.
Hoge appreciates the cabin’s architectural features. But like Douglas, he delights most in its setting — “the meadow and its elk and deer, and the surrounding mountains and trees,” he said.
“And just the fact that he spent a good portion of time there for me is very special,” added Hoge, a member of the Pacific Northwest William O. Douglas Society.
That time included work-related visits despite the cabin’s remote location. In August 1973, ACLU attorneys tracked Douglas down at his retreat after New York Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman and others sued to stop Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia, the National Register nomination notes.
Douglas agreed to hold a hearing in Yakima and granted a stay until the full Court could rule, ordering an immediate halt to the bombing. But the eight other members of the Court convened by telephone and reversed Douglas’ stay six hours later.
When Douglas died, his widow, now Cathy Douglas Stone, rented the cabin out for private use, according to the National Register nomination form. She sold the property in 1990 to the Dunlap family, who sold it to Hoge, who like Douglas graduated from Davis High School (known as Yakima High School when Douglas attended).
“I’ve seen where he used to live in Washington, D.C.; he had a place in Glenwood…,” Hoge said. “He kind of went full circle. He hiked up there a lot when he was a very young boy … then (had) it be his Shangri-La for the last few years of his life.”
Douglas is buried at Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington, D.C.
Hoge is a lawyer with a large firm. “That may not have been if not for him,” he said of Douglas, who he wants to keep “before the public because I do think he had important contributions to make.
“I think he’s quite an amazing individual and I don’t want his memory to fade,” he said.
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