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A town once full of pools now is home to relics...
Bathing Ghosts by Joe Cowley
Mail Tribune April 29, 1979

Ashland - Big, colorful railroad posters in the early 1900s described Ashland as "The Venice of the West."

The advertisements referred to five swimming pools fed by mineral springs.Almost 80 years later, Jackson Hot Springs is the only surviving public pool in or near the city.

The Heritage Bank recently ordered the Twin Plunges swimming pools filled in so that a new building can be erected at that First and A streets site.

The five public bathing pools which gave Ashland its early recognition were Buckhorn Springs, off the Dead Indian Road; Colestine Springs, by the old hotel of the same name south of Ashland; Helman Baths, off Otis Street;and, of course, Jackson Hot Springs and Twin Plunges.

Crowds of tourists, usually from Portland, would hurry off the Southern Pacific Railroad passenger trains of the early 1900's to cool off in the Colestine Springs pool. The 1876 "flag stop" is still marked south of town.

Tourists chose the Colestine Baths. But local families preferred the Helman Baths. The huge barn-like building housing the baths still looms over the Helman School and adjacent Quiet Village subdivision in the north part of town.

During the early 1900's, the older people soaked aching joints and muscles in the heated mineral spring waters toward the front of the building. Water flowed in through a pipe from an outdoor holding tank in front of the building. The springs form a marsh in a field in front of the old Helman home.The young people used the large pool farther back in the building. Water from mineral springs flowed between the rocks which formed one end of the pool.

John Billings, an Ashland resident for more than 50 years, remembers the baths. He and his friends would run up the stairs at the back of the building, jump and grab the trapeze-like swings dangling from the roof peak. They would swing out over the big pool and drop, sending geysers of water up from the big pool.

Or they would hurl their bodies down the long slide extending from near the ceiling to the water below.

Accidents did occur. For instance, young Roy Parr caught and mangled his hand in a swing chain. his hand was amputated. Several years later he became superintendent of what was then the Talent School district, a few miles north of Ashland.

"The big pool was 2 1/2 feet at the shallow end." Billings said. "For 35 cents you would be furnished a towel and swimsuit. Admission to the baths was 25 cents."

"Grant and Otis Helman, my two uncles took on the project of developing the springs, " said Almeda Coder, daughter of a third Helman brother, John. Mrs. Coder has lived in Ashland for 70 years.

"Years and years before that Indians from all over the area used to go there and bathe in the warm water," Mrs. Coder said. "They camped around there for days at a time."

Her Grandfather and grandmother settled a donation land claim on the former Indian Campground. The old home and barn built by her grandfather still stand.

During the days of the former Chautauqua where the Oregon Shakespearean Festival now is located, visitors to that exposition camped in the maple and evergreen groves near the baths.

After a few years, Grant Helman sold his interest in the baths to his brother Otis. Grant moved to Petaluma, Calif., where he raised 3,000 big white leghorn laying hens.

During the 1930's, Otis Helman died. His widow tried to operate the baths for a few years. Then she sold out.

The local historians can't remember who bought the baths from Mrs. Helman. Present owner of the Helman Baths is Mrs. Ali Eggert who lives in Eureka most of the year, but spends her summers in Ashland.

Lois and Robert Wenker, co-owners of the Ashland Sanitary Service, remember swimming in the Helman baths when they were in High School. By that time the pools had been closed for some time.

They still are. They form a landmark of an almost forgotten era when mineral springs were considered more beneficial to the human body than vitamins.

Reprinted with written permission from the Mail Tribune

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