Lithia Park hits century mark

By Mandy Valencia
Tidings correspondent

Lithia Park, once the site of an old mill, now a gathering place for young and old, locals and foreigners, will mark its 100th birthday on Dec. 15.

By a vote of 5-to-1 in 1908, the citizens of Ashland dedicated what is now the 93-acre parkland that exists today.

To mark this centennial event, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department is asking the community to help create a birthday card for the park. The oversized birthday card is an amalgam of notes, pictures, and drawings dedicated to the park. Each page, when fully adorned with written and pictorial expressions, is laminated and another page added.

JoAnne Eggers has served on the Parks Commission for the last 12 years.

“We hope that 30 years from now the kids that drew pictures can come back and look at it,” Eggers said.

Thick construction paper making up the pages of the card is adorned with sketches from elementary school students to photographs from marriage ceremonies conducted in the park.

The card will be displayed at a reception held Saturday, Dec. 13 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Pioneer Hall, 73 Winburn Way in Lithia Park. The community is invited to attend this event commemorating Lithia Park’s 100th birthday. The reception will consist of a slide show and a display of local objects dating back to the early 1900s.

Michael Davidson, an Ashland resident since 1969, reflected on his memories of Lithia Park: “My mom was the costume designer at the theater, in the summer me and my sister would spend most of our time there.”

“People really got along. You didn’t have to worry about your kids or anything. They could run around the park. You didn’t have to worry about anybody,” Davidson said.

These wooded grounds have played many roles throughout the years, beginning as the site of a flour mill, and transitioning into Chautauqua Park, which served as a camping and picnic ground during the early 1900s. In 1914 the Parks Commission appointed John McLaren, a landscape architect who designed San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, to plan improvements to the park.

According to the Encyclopedia of San Francisco, McLaren had a landscaping philosophy of creating a natural look by working with nature, not against it. About that same time, the Parks Commission opened a free auto camp including campsites and facilities. During this period Lithia Park looked very different than it does today. The park contained broad open space, dirt roads and Ashland Creek descending through it.

Lithia Park was formally dedicated in 1916. An article from the Tidings reported, with an estimated crowd of 50,000 people, “there was not a single accident and not one arrest” during the three-day event.

The Butler Bandshell was added in 1949 to serve the Ashland City Band, a function it has continued to this day. In 1974 the bandshell was damaged by the flooding of Ashland Creek. The appearance of the park has changed many times as a result of floodwaters. The earliest recorded flood occurred in 1861 and the most recent in 1997.

Above the upper duck pond is an area which once accommodated a zoo. Some longtime Ashland residents may remember this small zoo.

Davidson recalls seeing raccoons and cougars in the zoo. He also relates visiting a makeshift dog pound at the park.

“There was a little shed, next to that shed was a cage. The dog catcher would go through the park and if he caught any stray dogs he would put them in this little cage. There would be like four to five dogs in the cage. Me and my sister would check out the dogs,” Davidson said.

Debi Blair and Morgan Cottle, teachers at Walker Elementary school, are involving their classes in the celebration of Lithia Park by having them conduct interviews and look at old pictures. The students are looking for memories, photos, home movies and artifacts relating to Lithia Park. They will be creating a movie to share at the Ashland Independent Film Festival. The movie will also be seen at the community celebration on Dec. 13.

Despite recent changes such as the removal of the wooden barrel roll in the playground or the swans that once floated atop the ponds, much of the park has stayed the same. Today a view of the park reveals people picnicking, couples taking a quiet walk hand in hand, and children laughing as they play in the creek. All of these acts replaying year after year.

Children like Davidson who once played in the park (and even operated a lemonade stand there that was eventually ousted) grew to get married in the park, and in turn watch their kids play on the same land.

“The way I think of it is, Lithia Park is a gift to us all,” Eggers said, “It’s the most important thing to put my energy into.”

To add to the 100th year birthday card, contact the Parks and Recreation Department at 488-5340. To contribute to the Walker Elementary students project, contact Walker Elementary School at 482-1516.

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