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As It Was: Abel Helman’s Pasture Becomes Ashland Spa

Does natural mineral water cure rheumatism?  Early southern Oregonians believed it did.  At one point, the Ashland area had five spring-water spas, one of them on Ashland pioneer Abel Helman’s property near today’s Lithia Park.

After settling in Ashland in 1854, Helman ignored the mineral springs in his unused pasture until a neighbor decided to soak his rheumatic legs in the water, long said by Indians to be therapeutic.

After that, Helman began taking daily baths in the springs for his own rheumatism.  Soon, dozens of residents wanted to try the waters.  In 1910, Helman’s sons, Grant and Otis, developed the baths into a public recreation center with a large cold pool, diving board, water slide, and a smaller heated pool where doctors sent their patients for treatments.  They piped the water from the original spring in the pasture.

Over time, the pools fell into disrepair, and by 1958 were closed to the public. The only present-day mineral spa in Ashland is Jackson Wellsprings on Hwy 99, where people enjoy the tradition that once inspired Ashland to call itself “The Venice of the West.”

Sources: Powers, Dennis. "The Ashland-Area Mineral Springs." Southern Oregon Past & Present, southernoregonpastandpresent.com/articles/Ashland-Area-Mineral-Springs.pdf. Accessed 19 July 2018; Skinner, Mary Lou. "Pasture Puddle Expanded Into Popular Spa." Medford Mail Tribune, 22 Dec. 1967, p. 8.

Sharon Bywater of Ashland, Oregon grew up in Southern California. She taught English literature and writing at Syracuse University in New York, where she also wrote and edited adult literacy books and published freelance articles in local media. Later, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked as an international telecommunications policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has Master’s degrees in English and Communications Management.