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.
In 1908, the City of Ashland set aside property on Ashland Creek for development of a city park, authorized a permanent tax levy to fund the park, and appointed members of the city’s first parks commission. These actions were part of a city charter amendment, overwhelmingly adopted by Ashland voters, that “reserved and forever dedicated” city lands bordering Ashland Creek, from the Plaza to the forest reserve, for park purposes. Several years later, John McLaren, the designer and superintendent of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, was hired to develop a landscape plan. After that work was completed, Lithia Park was formally dedicated over the Independence Day holiday, July 4-6, 1916.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival began in 1935 with a three-day summer festival of Shakespearean plays under founding director Angus Bowmer. An estimated 50,000 people turned out for the 3-day celebration, during which the Butler-Perozzi fountain also was dedicated. Since then, a great number of improvements have been made to the park, and hundreds of thousands of local residents and visitors alike have enjoyed its creeksides, tree canopies, pathways, ponds, picnic areas, children’s playground, Japanese Garden, mineral fountain, flowers, shrubs and amphitheater/bandshell. Lithia Park is truly Ashland’s heart and soul, and one of the finest examples of a public park in the western United States.
Take a Tour
of historical Lithia Park.
Read the Lithia Book by Marjorie O'Harra