The Tolman Years, 1890 – 1902

The curative powers of Buckhorn’s Carbon Dioxide springs known to the Native Americans did not go unnoticed by the white settlers, whose numbers increased sharply over the last half of the nineteenth century. Even though many whites may have scoffed at much of what the Natives held sacred, they did take pragmatic notice of any practices that might improve either their health or their pocketbooks. Putting fears of the “poison waters” (small dead animals had been found around the CO2 site in the creek) aside, it was not long before white entrepreneurs began offering their own brand of “Hi-U-Skookum Medicine” to those settlers who found no relief for their ailments elsewhere, medical science being what it was at that time.

In 1854, speculation has it that someone, perhaps Dr. Caldwell, built a homestead cabin next to the springs at Buckhorn and gained title to the property. This two-story structure formed the core for the lodge built several years later by James Tolman. We do know that in the late 1880’s, Dr. Caldwell sold a parcel of land surrounding Buckhorn to a man named Blackwood, who in turn sold it to Tolman in 1890.

James Clarke Tolman, born in Ohio in 1813, joined the 1849 Gold Rush to California. He returned to Iowa, married Emily Coe in 1852, and two days later, began the arduous journey to Oregon by ox team. Tolman was unique among Ashland pioneers in that he attended college. While in Iowa, he ran for the Territorial Legislature on the Whig ticket, losing by only 60 votes. In 1874, he was nominated as the Republican candidate for Governor of Oregon, but was defeated. Tolman served two terms as Judge of Jackson County and was appointed Oregon’s Surveyor General in 1882. He was also known for raising Morgan and Lionheart racehorses and English turf horses. By the time the mineral springs outside of Ashland became available for purchase, Tolman had the political and financial clout to strike out in yet another direction.

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In 1890, Tolman began the first real development of the springs by starting construction of a hotel built around the original cabin. One of Tolman’s initial acts as the new owner was to give it a name: Tolman Springs. No one knows for sure whether his prime plan for the springs’ use was benevolent, mercenary or both. We do know he opened his pocketbook and spent both time and money developing Tolman Springs into a health resort of wide reputation. By 1900, the springs included the hotel, cottages, and facilities for visitors to bathe in mud, mineral water or CO2 vapor; Tolman expanded the homestead footprint more than fourfold from its original size.

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At this time Tolman’s resort was accessible only by stage on a road that wound from Ashland over the Siskiyous past Pilot Rock, then into California. The path of this stage road was most likely influenced by the locations of Tolman Springs and Wagner Soda Springs, two miles down the road. Oddly enough, Southern Pacific, which earlier helped promote Tolman Springs, later contributed to its demise when the railroad chose to route its tracks on a more western route through Colestin. The road to Tolman Springs was abandoned when north-south traffic followed the railroad, and when the new road to Klamath Falls bypassed the springs.

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Ironically, the fall in the fortunes of the Emigrant Creek resorts coincided with a new fervor in Ashland to promote itself as a spa paradise. Ashland residents voted in 1914 to pipe the renowned “Lithia Water” to several downtown locations, a decision that ultimately helped lead to the creation of Lithia Park. Today Ashland residents are reminded of Tolman when they visit Tolman Creek and drive on Tolman Creek Road. Another prominent figure in Ashland during that time was Jacob Wagner, who owned Wagner Soda Springs. The gravestones of both Tolman, who died in 1902, and his friend, Jacob Wagner, are located in the most prominent positions of the Ashland Cemetery. On Tolman’s marker one will find the words, “Our Father – Strenuous, Brave, Generous.”

– Rodger Love and Bruce Sargent