Where did these stairs lead?

This staircase in Ashland's Lithia Park leads from the walking path to a cement platform with low stone walls. 3/11/07 Denise Baratta

Take the wood-chip trail from Lithia Park's playground on Ashland Creek's east bank in Lithia Park, and you'll see a steep staircase ascending straight up the hill.

Climb the stairs, and you'll find yourself on an empty expanse of concrete. Another staircase rises from the slab to South Pioneer Street.

Seemingly out of place in the park's verdant landscape, the slab is all that remains of Central Bottling Station, a disbursement center for mineral water during Ashland's heyday as a health-spa destination.

Located roughly parallel to the Mineral Water Pavilion and upstream from the Butler Band Shell, the spot fed lithia fountains in the park and at the railroad depot.

Ashland residents in 1914 passed a $175,000 levy for the mineral springs project, which led to the construction of a pipeline system from the springs near Ashland's airport to the central station.

At the station, the water was mixed and carbonated. Some was bottled, although it proved unprofitable, local historians said.

"It was a colossal failure in many ways," said George Kramer, Ashland historical consultant and chairman of the Oregon Heritage Commission.

Interest in Ashland's bid as a spa resort faded with World War I and fizzled with the Great Depression. Although Lithia Park was a center of community life during World War II, the Central Bottling Station was abandoned.

The 1916 building was used briefly as a Boy Scout headquarters but ultimately demolished for safety reasons. The remaining staircases were nominated for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Department added handrails to the stairs more than a decade ago, said Steve Gies, park supervisor. For those with enough stamina, they provide an alternate route with sweeping views into the park.

"It's a trail junction, you might say," Gies said.

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