Essentially Ashland: Dreaming of Lithia Park

The other day I took a walk through a sun-lit Lithia Park and again was awed by the beauty of the layout, colorful leaves and running water. I have always gone to this magnificent park when mulling over a new idea or reflecting upon how certain events seem to lay a path to a bright future, while others tip violently, then spin down the rabbit hole.

As I sat on a favorite bench I took full notice of what was around me. The former Chautauqua structure, constructed in 1893, later served as a shell for the first of Angus Bowmer's productions in 1935, after, of course, an afternoon fist fight attended by those with a thirst for blood and no vision of what might be possible with a Shakespeare festival in place. It was a guy thing.

I recalled that in 1892 George F. Billings talked the Southern Oregon Chautauqua Assembly in Central Point into relocating the upcoming event to Ashland. After all, Ashland had electric lights, city water, a better hotel and a mound above the Plaza where a wooden-domed hall could be built. Yet all this might have meant little had we logged what is now Lithia Park, which was another guy thing. Many of the members of the Ladies Chautauqua Club formed the Women's Civic Improvement Club. Central to the focus of the club was the establishment of a park in Ashland. In 1908, after lobbying the City Council, an amendment to the city charter was made establishing an elected Park Commission and setting aside all city-owned property bordering Ashland Creek for use as a park.

It took a woman's organization to buy the property and reserve it for a future park. They did this on their own and for this we owe them all a full measure of gratitude, plus the acknowledgement that women paved the way for Ashland to become a tourist destination

The men were otherwise occupied playing poker and looking for shortcuts to wealth.

As motor vehicles became more prevalent, car camping was allowed in the park and, with a 10-day pass to the Chautauqua, the first traveling cultural exhibition to hit the Rogue Valley. Costing only a single dollar, many were exposed to classical music, lectures and all manner of the arts for the first time.

I closed my eyes and heard the mighty steam locomotives coming and going down by the train depot and seemed to taste the first gulp of Lithia Water, which was piped in from east of our current small airfield.

Our run at being a destination spa was indefinitely put on hold with the advent of the First World War and the ensuing influenza pandemic that forced many to stay at home for fear of this deadly malady.

Lithia Park's real development began in 1914 with the hiring of John McLaren, who had previously designed San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Both parks were to have roads to accommodate automobiles and blended in well with the lay of the land. What we now see is the result of his meticulous plans and imagination.

As the sun set behind the mountains and the temperature began to drop, I exited my meditation, jumped on my two-wheeled chariot and flew down Winburn Way, which overlooked the former Satan's Grotto and the steps leading up to the Crystal Carbonating Company that had bottled Lithia Water for many years. With my resolve gathering, I streaked home and bounded inside.

During my park meditation, the answer to my burning question of the day had been revealed and I was anxious to share my insight with my wife, Annette. I was in such a rush that, upon entering the house, I tripped while yelling that the problem was solved and hit my head on the coffee table. Fortunately I was wearing a helmet and I quickly brushed off this knock on the noggin.

"What epiphany fell upon you this afternoon?" Annette questioned. "Women know how to park," was all I could mutter. was last seen caught in a maelstrom of memories. Please email him a rope and some hope.

Share This Story