Lithia Park: Ashland, Oregon
Lithia Park can trace its roots to the Chautauqua movement of the late 19th century when the Chautauqua Association purchased eight acres of land along Ashland Creek. In 1908 the Women's Civic Improvement Club and members of the community successfully lobbied the town of Ashland to establish a city park commission and acquire property along Ashland Creek for the development of a park.
South of the downtown Ashland plaza and encompassing 93 acres on either side of Ashland Creek along Winburn Way.
The modern-day evolution of the park began when a lithia water spring was discovered nearby. At the time, lithia mineral water was thought to have positive health effects, and a bond was issued in 1914 to pipe lithia water from the spring in the nearby mountains. The City of Ashland hired John McLaren, designer of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, to develop a landscape plan for the lower 18 acres of the park's 93 acres. McLaren's plan was reminiscent of Frederick Law Olmsted's designs and included the construction of ponds, gardens, gazebos, and numerous groves of native trees — alders, oaks, conifers, and madrones. The park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, and several of the park's features are also listed in the State of Oregon Register of Historic Places.
One of the park's most popular attractions is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which occupies the northern corner of the park on the former Chautauqua grounds. The festival began in 1935 and has since grown to three theaters, including the 1,190-seat outdoor Elizabethan Stage. Each year, upwards of 400,000 people attend the plays, which run from February through early November. The festival is among the oldest and largest repertory theaters in the United States. In 2013 the festival had an economic impact on the region of over $251 million.
The community's commitment to preserving the park has been evident throughout the years. Floods in 1974 and 1997 resulted in significant damage, and each time the community approved funding to repair the damage and make park improvements.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- Chautauqua Association purchased eight acres of land in present-day Lithia Park (1893)
- Lithium oxide water, found in a nearby spring in 1907, was thought to provide positive health benefits
- The town passed measures to take over park maintenance (1908)
- In 1914 the city passed a $175,000 bond measure to pipe lithium oxide water from the spring to the park and John McLaren, designer of Golden Gate Park, was hired to prepare and develop a landscape plan for the lower 18 acres of the park
- Oregon Shakespeare Theater was established when Angus Bowmer asked the city for $400 to build a stage on which to present two Shakespeare plays during the town's Fourth of July celebration (1935)
- The current Elizabethan Stage, built in 1959, was designed by Richard L. Hay
- In 1982, 42 of the park's 93 acres were listed on the National Register of Historic Places
Design and Features
- Organic layout follows the natural terrain and Ashland Creek, inspired by Frederick Law Olmsted
- Enders Memorial Shelter Gazebo (1916) underwent major restorations in 2013; listed on the National Register of Historic Places
- Many of the original features planned by John McLaren remain, including Upper Duck Pond, tennis courts, Butler-Perrozi Fountain, auto camp registration building, Japanese garden, Enders Memorial Gazebo
- Floods in 1974 and 1997 resulted in significant damage throughout the park; citizens have repeatedly supported funding to repair damages and make improvements to the park to prevent future flood damage
- Atkinson Memorial Bridge, built in 1912, spans Ashland Creek near children's playground; underwent restoration (2013) at a cost of $50,000
- Enders Memorial Shelter Gazebo, the only remaining gazebo of the three originals, was restored in 2013 at a cost of $154,000
- To improve water quality and assist Chinook salmon in swimming to the park's streams, city engineers currently considering banning the release of treated wastewater from the city's water-treatment plant directly into Ashland Creek (2014)
Programming and Events
- The "Oregon Shakespeare Festival," the park's best-known attraction, operates annually from February through early November
- Ashland Parks and Recreation volunteers lead 1.5-hour free nature walks through the park several times a week from May through September
- The Annual "Feast of Will Dinner and Performance," hosted annually by the Lions Club and Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is staged near the front of the park
- Weekly summer concerts hosted by the Ashland City Band at the Butler Bandshell span mid-June through mid-August
- Annual Fourth of July festivities, which draw approximately 20,000 people, are held each year in the park courtesy of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce
For a more detailed map of the park visit: http://www.ashland.or.us/Files/Lithia_Park.pdf