Ladies using the "Benson Bubblers". Photo courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society.
As Erickson’s Saloon underscores, the saloons at the end of the 19th century were the site of rough and tumble behavior.
But that started to change with the rise of the temperance movement and as the state grew more prosperous. Secure jobs in lumber mills and wealth generated from providing goods and services to the California Gold Rush helped stabilize the economy, giving the movers and shakers more time to regulate the seedier activities of the city.
Simon Benson was one such influential figure. He was a lumber baron, civic leader, philanthropist and, notably, a teetotaler. One day, while walking through his mill, Benson noticed the smell of beer on his workers' breath. When he asked these men why they were drinking in the middle of the day, they replied there was no fresh drinking water to be found downtown. Upon hearing this, Benson spent $10,000 commissioning 20 elegant freshwater drinking fountains, which we now know as Benson Bubblers. Claims of a 40% decline in beer sales were reported after the fountains were installed. The first Benson Bubbler was installed at SW Fifth and Washington Streets.
© 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting.