Ashland began in the 1800s as a water-powered sawmill and a flour mill standing on the banks of Ashland Creek. The mill occupied what is now the entrance to Lithia Park. The plaza was a popular meeting spot, where settlers would hitch their horses, trade wheat for flour or purchase lumber.
Early settlers had ties to Ashland County, Ohio and Ashland, Kentucky; hence the town's name. It became official in 1855 with the opening of the Ashland Mills Post Office.
By 1859 the City had 50 people. Hotels, schools, churches, and mills sprang up and during the 1870s and 1880s. Ashland grew faster than any town south of Portland. By 1900 there were 3,000 people in Ashland, the largest town in Jackson County at the time.
In the early 1900s, water rich in lithium-now known as Lithia water-bubbled from the town's fountains. With the help of the Women's Civic Improvement Club, a park system was developed, including Lithia Park.
The park began with eight acres in 1892 by the Chautauqua Association to bring entertainment and culture to southern Oregon. They built a domed building for their shows, the walls of which now surround the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Elizabethan Theater.
Visitors came from miles around over the next thirty summers to participate in the various attractions offered and to camp in what was to become Lithia Park.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival began in 1935 with a three-day summer festival of Shakespearean plays under founding director Angus Bowmer.
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