Satan's Grotto for a sip

During the night before Halloween in 1973 I ventured into Lithia Park, hot on the trail of two mostly forgotten haunts where it was rumored the spirits of Ashland's early settlers gathered and dusted it up a little.

The first place I stopped was Satan's Grotto, a once popular late night stop for sulphur drinking cultists and otherwise fine, upstanding citizens of Ashland.

Chet Cory, park superintendent in the late 1960s filled the grotto in with concrete. Where once people stopped by for a gasp of sulphur water, I found now the link to Hades had been sealed and capped. The great flood of 1974 thundered the Grotto downstream to forever tumble and toss until enthroned, once again, under the pounding surf of the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of the mighty Rogue River at Gold Beach.

I thought back to the sign then posted at the entrance to the park outlining all the things that were not permitted. The one that stuck in my mind was: "It is prohibited to talk to strangers." The question is how did one get to know anybody in Lithia Park without breaking the law? The police are still investigating "&


That rated right up with the posted motto of Ashland on Sept. 28, 1880, when President Rutherford B. Hayes, Mrs. Hayes, General Tecumseh Sherman and their entourage made a brief stop here: "Industry, Education, Temperance &

Ashland Honors Those Who Foster these."*

After listening to the drone of a winded welcome speech, the entourage bolted to Jacksonville, where they could drink whiskey and laugh. Lucy Hayes, however, was known for not allowing alcohol to be served in the White House, earning her the moniker of "Lemonade Lucy." She would have easily fit into Ashland, living up to the town's image to a "tea."

My next stop of the evening was to journey up the concrete steps near the former Satan's Grotto. In modern times it's a hike up the hillside to the foundation of the former Crystal Carbonating Company, which bottled Lithia water for some years. The exact details of the operation are slowly bubbling to the surface.

It was noted that this historic site was one of many outlets of Lithia water as some of the photos indicate: the Lithia Springs well house and pump, the Gillette bottling house, (both located east of the Ashland Municipal Airport, Sumner Parker Field), the gazebos at Lithia Park and the Railroad Depot, the Carnegie Library, the fountain between the police station and City Hall (added much later), the Lithia fountain located on the Plaza and several downtown hotels.

The missing fountain on the Plaza has been the subject of much speculation. Some say its back east being plumbed, others say that it is in storage awaiting the proper moment to raise yet more money for its installation. The most original theory is that it was lowered into the upper duck pond in an attempt to clean those foul waters for the betterment of the fowles.

Standing atop the foundation of the Crystal Carbonating Company I felt the heady, effervescent roiling of possibilities as post-Chautauqua, pre-Shakespeare Ashland struggled to find purchase in a changing sea of possibilities. Health/mineral spas were all the rage and Ashland was awash with liquid possibilities. Just as the town began to enjoy its fame as a spa destination, World War I drew us into and through the endless battle trenches of Europe.

Ashland's promise of tourists fell face first into the mud as our armies of doughboys began arriving at the devil's door in faraway France. In 1927, passenger trains were rerouted through Klamath Falls, leaving Ashland without any railroad riding tourists. The Great Depression descended upon the nation in on October 19, 1929, with a stock market crash on Black Tuesday. We didn't land on our feet again until the end of WWII.

*Marjorie O'Harra: "Ashland, the first 130 years." A special credit to Terry Skibby for photos and historical details.

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