Lithia water, Ashland, Oregon

There is a tradition of ascribing beneficial qualities to spring and mineral water. Often this is associated with waters from hot springs. Many soakers drink the water from hot springs to get a boost of salts and minerals. Ashland is known for its hot springs and, above all, its mineral "lithia" water.

On a recent drive south to California I stopped in Ashland, Oregon to stock up on the city's legendary lithia water. In the center of the city there is a fountain that serves up bubbly, somewhat sulfury-tasting mineral water. The fountain was installed sometime around 1914 by city boosters hoping to capture the national enthusiasm for lithium-laden mineral waters. A city motto was "Ashland grows while lithia flows." Not much of this effort is remembered today but the fountain remains an important historic feature of the city.

The old fountain is situated near the middle of the city's main street. It's located at the tip of a wedge-shaped beautiful city park, Lithia Park, that meanders up a creek bed into the hills above Ashland. The central business district of Ashland consists of more or less two main drags, one street going north, the other south. The city founders managed to carve out a wonderful park that runs perpendicularly into one of these streets of the business corridor. Even though people passing through might miss it, the fountain is something of a symbolic anchor that connects the city center to the nearby park.

By implication of the siting, the fountain is fed by Lithia Creek, the creek that runs through Lithia Park. This is not the case. The water comes, from some distance, completely from the opposite direction by way of an old pipe system.

The fountain is pretty and well designed. I liked the big ceramic fountains and how the water froths up from center spouts. (This water fountain style is obviously now out of vogue due to perceived sanitary concerns. Its the same style as the Benson Bubbler water fountains in Portland, Oregon. I doubt it's ever hurt anyone.) It was relaxing to sit in the afternoon shade and watch the foamy white quietly churn forth.

I watched tourists pass by the fountain and take sample drinks. Most people didn't like it and were confused by the purpose of the water. Kids would sip the water and turn up their noses in disgust at the baking soda-y and sulfur taste. Local homeless folk, for some reason liked to congregate around the fountain. There were other park benches but these were a particular favorite. Some of this can be ascribed to the water. Forgive me for being so forward but at least two of the indigents had some pretty apparent mental health challenges. One woman said she drank the water regularly and she lived nearby and stayed in Ashland so she could continue to drink the water. She ascribed powerful health benefits to the water and it wasn't just the lithium. I think the locals (or transient temporarily locals), like me, found the flow of the frothy water relaxing. The water was a good back drop to smoke and chat with each other.

A local said that there was another Lithia water fountain further up in the park. The water up there was fresher and more carbonated due to the fact that it was supposedly closer to the source. I would later find out that this was completely bunk. As stated, the water is piped in from the opposite direction. Bah!

On my drive south I brought a case of empty 22 ounce beer bottles and a home-brew bottle capper. I filled up the bottles from a separate spout designed just for filling bottles. (It's hard to direct the water into containers from the drinking fountains.) Capping the bottles on the spot helped preserve the carbonation of the water. It's not carbonated to the degree that we're used with store-bought soda, but crack open a bottle and pour it in a glass and it does get bubbly.

One note: If you collect water for yourself from this spout, I recommend running it for a bit. The water in this pipe stands, unused, for a long time. 

On the return trip north I stopped off at a sushi restaurant in Ashland, had some lunch, and asked the owners if I could have two cases of empty Sapporo beer bottles. These bottles are cap-able and a good size (22 ounces, more or less). They obliged. I cleaned out the bottles in Lithia Park and loaded up with water for taking home.

I like lithia water. It's an adult sort of taste. My daughter, Greta, observed that the water tastes like blood. A weird observation maybe but it's actually pretty accurate. It might be good as a cocktail mixer. Maybe it's just the placebo effect but I feel I sleep better after drinking it and the salty taste at least gives the impression that I'm re-hydrating with electrolytes after a good soak or sauna. Who knows? Suit yourself. From now on it will be a regular stop on my drives south and returns north. Why not? I can fill up for free with all I can carry.

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