After lengthy hiatus Lithia water flows on the Plaza once again

After two years of restoration, the 1927 Lithia water fountain in Ashland's Plaza is back and turned on &

and locals have resumed the time-honored game of watching tourists grimace and spit as they taste the feisty but health-giving liquid.

"We're thrilled. It's been worth the wait," said Ashland historian George Kramer, who directed the $35,000 to $40,000 restoration that included a new, central granite piece from a Georgia quarry, casting of new metal basins (coated to imitate original porcelain) and new chrome bubblers made in Cincinnati.

The highly mineralized water, which reeks of sulfur, has been piped into town from the Emigrant Lake area for 80 years and is mainly tasted by tourists.

Stephen Kaczor of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, said he expected cool, good-tasting spring water and found it anything but.

"It's salty and warm," spluttered his 12-year-old daughter Michelle Kaczor.

Her twin, Sara, observed, "It's gross. Why does everything that's good for you taste bad?"

The water contains lithium, which is reputed to have benefits for mental tranquility.

"I know it's good for you and we don't get enough lithium," said Karen Anderson of Seattle. "Maybe that's why the people of Ashland are so sane. But it does taste like Alka-Seltzer."

Susanna Current of Redding, Calif., said, "It's like rotten eggs, but does have a sweet aftertaste."

Locals were doing fist pumps and cheering the return of the historic icon, whose waters are the namesake of Lithia Park and Lithia Way.

Basins on the six-foot-long edifice were replaced with off-the-shelf models and iron brackets in the 1950s. They became steadily corroded by the strong mineral water, which "blew out the valves and ate away at the mechanics," said Kramer.

"It got so rusty, it failed," he said. "The kids in the Plaza are rough on them and it finally broke. The vandals were the coup de grace. They put it over the edge."

Some passers-by expressed anger about the carelessness of Plaza folk who would sit on the fountains, finally breaking them off &

and over vandals decapitating the nearby statue of Abraham Lincoln.

"It's a sign of the times. The city has to keep the itinerant kids under control because tourism is the lifeblood of this community and it's threatened," said Caroline Carter of Ashland.

To lessen the corrosive effects, the Lithia water will run only 12 hours a day in the fountains, then fresh water will flush the system the other 12 hours, said Kramer.

"It's great they restored it. It represents one of the spirits of Ashland, the sense of community, one of the beauties of the place," said retired Linfield College professor Frank Nelson of McMinnville, a lifetime friend of the late Angus Bowmer, founder of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Adjacent to the fountain is a faucet that offers a big stream of Lithia water, so people can fill jugs and make lemonade with it &

a beverage that passers-by said was popular with earlier generations.

"I drank it for years. It's an acquired taste. The first time, it wasn't palatable," said Hollie Sundin of Ashland, noting that the spigot behind the Lithia Park band shell offers sweeter Lithia water.

"It looks real nice. I'm real happy it's back," said Gwyneth Thomas of Ashland. "It was sad when it was gone and it's a good restoration job."

Restoration of the fountain was done "to make it look exactly like it did in the 1920s," said Kramer, and was carried out with the help of Paula Brown, former city public works director, and Terry Oldfield, city water quality superintendent.

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