It's one of the valley's nastiest traditions, but, oh, it's so much fun!

It's one of the valley's nastiest traditions, but, oh, it's so much fun!

Your friends or relatives are here to visit, and before they have a clue of what's about to happen, you're offering them a drink at the Ashland Plaza.

We've all been there, our faces puckered up and looking like Prune Face from the old "Dick Tracy" comic strip. And, except for a few unusual individuals who actually claim to relish the taste of lithia water, most of us quickly learn our lesson and swear off that stuff for the rest of our lives.

"I had my first and last taste when I was 6 or 7 years old," said California visitor Alice Taylor, who had brought her daughter to the Plaza fountain.

Watching Taylor, as she tried to surprise her 4-year old with the cool liquid's delicate bouquet, one wonders if there might be some strange chemical in that water that turns seemingly caring parents into pranksters.

Luckily for the innocent child, the fountain has been out of service since last year, a victim of vandals.

"Oh well," said a somewhat discouraged Taylor. "It's one of those tastes you don't want to repeat anyway. It tastes pretty yucky, so I guess I should be ashamed."

There are probably more scientific ways to describe the taste of Ashland's unique tonic, but "yucky" pretty much says it all.

After all, it was that bad taste, caused by all those minerals in the water, that got early 20th century entrepreneurs gushing with enthusiasm. The combination of minerals and bad taste surely meant that it was good medicine, and good medicine was good for business.

The idea was to make Ashland a destination health spa where people would come from all parts of the world to take the waters and improve their health.

Until an elaborate distribution system was built, the water was hand-bottled at its source, the Lithia Springs south of Emigrant Creek, four miles east of town.

Since you can't lead your relatives to a nasty drink of water right now, perhaps you should do the adult thing and take them out to the springs area for a long-distance historic look.

The City of Ashland leases the property to the Ashland Gun Club, so unless you're a member, you'll have to be satisfied with a peek from the wide driveway in front of the club's security gate.

Down the hill and near the creek you'll see a small concrete building that's been crumbling for a number of years. This is the original pump house that by 1916 pushed lithia water to five different locations within the city.

But yucky is as yucky does and the whole health resort idea never took off. Medford residents began calling Ashland, "Soda Pop City," and it was down the drain from there.

The springs should be flowing again by fall, once again luring the innocent and gullible into our trap. We could feel ashamed of ourselves, but where's the fun in that?

A drink of water and a puckered face? Now, that's what we call fun.

Bill Miller is a Southern Oregon freelance writer. Reach him at