As it were

Goodale Park gate built in 1899

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The Fish Gate, seen here circa 1900, marks one of the entrances to Goodale Park.

Goodale Park is an island of green in the heart of Ohio's capital city. Over the years since it was given to Columbus by pioneer physician Dr. Lincoln Goodale in 1851, the park has served among other things as a military camp and public meeting grounds as well as a place for leisurely recreation.

The park was a way for Goodale to thank the residents of Columbus for the success he had achieved in the capital city. It is interesting to note that most of that success did not have all that much to do with the practice of medicine.

In a letter to one George Woodridge in 1866, Goodale remembered his early years in Ohio.

"I was born in Brookfield, Massachusetts, July 25, 1782, and was one of the first party of women and children that arrived at Marietta in (August) 1788. My father, Major Goodale, with his family, soon after moved to Belpre, where I lived until the year 1806, when I moved to Franklinton and settled there as a physician. ... I believe there is no human being in Ohio who has lived within the limits of the state as many years as I have."

Leaving the practice of medicine when he crossed the Scioto River from Franklinton to the new capital city of Columbus in 1814, Goodale engaged in what he later called "the mercantile business."

He accumulated a significant fortune in a variety of business ventures and invested his profits in land in and around the city. By the time he died in 1868 at the age of 86, Goodale had seen his park transformed from a woods to a Civil War military camp and back to a woods. But little else had been done.

The pathways and carriage trails were not laid out until the early 1870s and a small lake was not constructed until 1875.

A year earlier, a small menagerie was housed in a small building facing Buttles Avenue. It consisted of two bears, two wolves, 19 rabbits and three foxes. A bronze bust of Goodale was placed near the southeast corner of the park in 1888.

By the 1890s, the park was easily reached by either streetcar or carriage and was a frequent destination for people seeking something a little less hectic than the large amusement parks of that era. It was at this time that the entrances to the park became a little more formal as well. One of these was the gate at the northwest corner of the park. Somewhat reminiscent of a pagoda, the formal name of the structure is the Fish Gate.

The name may strike some people as a bit odd since there is nothing in the decoration of the gate that even vaguely resembles a fish. And just as curiously, one might ask, "Why is there a pagoda in the park?"

The structure is called the Fish Gate because it was given to the city by William H. Fish. Fish and his family lived in a substantial house on the diagonally opposite corner from the gate, and the house is built of the same material.

Fish's father, also named William, had come to Columbus in 1849 and began a family business that later came to be called the Fish Steam Stone Works. A separate business called the Fish Pressed Brick Co. was one of the first to make bricks from shale.

In 1899, Fish gave a commission to local resident Isabel Terrell to design the Pagoda Gate. This brings us back to that question about why there might be a pagoda in the park. The answer is that pagodas and other oriental designs were popular in the 1890s. Other notable examples include the Sells house directly across Dennison Avenue and the Toledo and Ohio Central Railroad Station on West Broad Street.

Like many structures in that period, the Fish Gate is not designed in only one style. A close examination will reveal eight faces, reminiscent of the gargoyles found in gothic buildings, carved in the columns. Seven of them refer to the seven ages of man from the play As You Like It by William Shakespeare.

The seven faces are: infant, school-boy, soldier, justice, elder and second childhood. The eighth face is that of Goodale.

Over the years since 1899, the city of Columbus did not do the best job of preventive maintenance on the gate or other structures -- not just in this park, but others across the city as well. The original tile roof of the gate was removed and replaced with shingles, and the wooden parts of the structure began to deteriorate.

In recent years, a local organization -- the Friends of Goodale Park -- obtained funding and a complete renovation of the gate was recently completed. Now, the pagoda gate once again provides a fitting entry to a great place.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.