Lithia Park began with eight acres in 1892 as a place where the Chautauqua Association could bring entertainment and culture to southern Oregon. Its growth and development from a Chautauqua site (where the original Shakespeare theater began in 1935) to a complete reflection of the public parks movement makes it of great historical as well as landscape interest. Today 42 of its 93 acres are listed in the National Register.
In 1908, at the urging of the Women's Civic Improvement Club, the people of Ashland passed a measure to include park maintenance in the City Charter.
The following year the old flour mill that was located right at the present-day park entrance since 1954 was torn down. Also in 1909 a park board was elected and additional acres bordering Ashland Creek were acquired. In 1910 the lower duck pond and waterfall feeding it were constructed, while Bert Greer, an ambitious newspaper editor, conceived of making Ashland a world famous spa by capitalizing on the Lithia springs of the area.
The development of today's park began in 1914 with the hiring of John McLaren (famous for his design of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park) as landscape architect. Lithia Park embodies the distinctive characteristics of park design in the tradition of Frederick Law Olmsted. McLaren's landscape plan for Lithia Park was organic in layout, following the natural canyon of the water course. The plantings were naturalistic to the extent that native alders, oaks, conifers and madrones were incorporated, but other plants, such as willows, maples, sycamores, and numerous ornamental varieties were introduced and selected for hardiness, form and color.
Once within the Park, the visitor can walk along the trail on the east side of Ashland Creek to the Park headquarters and obtain a more detailed map showing the location of both historic (e.g., 1915: Lithia Water Fountain, Butler-Perozzi Fountain Terrace, Sycamore Grove, Upper Duck Pond) and more modern park features including a trail guide to the most significant trees throughout the Park.
- For all you history buffs out there, the Park headquarters also offers a wonderful and comprehensive history booklet written by Marjorie O'Harra for a steal at $2.
- Ashland Parks and Recreation Department is open Monday-Friday 8:00am to 5:00pm. For further information call 541-488-5340.
- Guided nature walks are offered May through September on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 10:00am.