Many years ago, I came to Columbus to attend Ohio State University. I was living in a house on North Fourth Street and was always looking for a place to walk my St. Bernard.
I came across this wonderful old building and looked inside. It was a huge open barn of a place with the largest wooden floor I had ever seen anywhere. The Saint and I loved the place.
And then one day, it was gone.
It was called Smith's Roller Rink and Dance Garden and it claimed to be the last wooden floor roller rink in Columbus. It probably was just that. And it had outlived its time.
In an area of intense real-estate development -- then and now -- that site along North Fourth near the head of the Iuka Ravine was simply too tempting to development to pass up. One day, the Saint and I came to Smith's and the rink was gone. The ground had been cleared and new buildings were being built. The site became then -- and still is -- an apartment complex.
I wondered at the time if anyone cared about roller skating. I had a pair of skates when I was 12 and had a fair amount of fun on them for a few years. But by the time I was 20, I was not in the habit of roller skating. I wondered if anybody was.
As it turned out, they were.
Roller skating had lagged in popularity in the late 1950s but had seen a resurgence in the 1960s. However, the new skaters of the baby boom generation were looking for new experiences in new places. So entrepreneurial sorts of people built them new roller rinks. They proved to be quite popular.
All of this prompts a query: How popular has roller skating been in Columbus?
As it turns out, skating has been popular, indeed.
Roller skating seems to have taken its lead from ice skating, which has been around for a very long time. Some time in ancient history, people in northern climes learned that if one mounted a couple of knife blades on a pair of boards, a way to swiftly travel on ice had just been found.
It would be several hundred years until ingenuity caught up on land. In 1743, a performer appeared on stage in London in what appeared to be roller skates. This was followed by other appearances over the years with skates that were hard to wear and even more difficult to use.
All of this changed in 1863 when James Leonard Plimption brought forth the "safety" roller skate with four two-wheel pairs aligned in tandem, permitting the user to easily turn as well as go straight. It is a basic design still in use today and it made roller skating immediately accessible to the general public.
Between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the century, virtually any city of any size in America sported at least one and often more than one public skating rinks.
Columbus had seen some success in this sort of business in the years after the Civil War. Encouraged by this interest, some Columbus entrepreneurs came together in 1885 and constructed the Park Roller Rink on land adjacent to Goodale Park. It was a huge building and was quite successful for a time.
But in the wake of an economic depression in the early 1890s, the business was unable to continue. The rink was acquired by new owners and was extensively renovated and remodeled by the local architectural firm of Yost and Packard.
The building reopened in 1897 as the Columbus Auditorium. Over the next several years, the auditorium was used by a number of individuals and groups of national importance. The evangelist Billy Sunday held a lengthy revival in the auditorium and the site saw actors, singers and entertainers of all sorts pass through.
The building was in continuous use until the winter of 1910. A massive amount of snow collected on the roof of the building and couldn't be removed. The weight of the snow collapsed the roof.
Unable to salvage the damaged building, the decision was made to demolish it. The building was removed and the largest roller rink and auditorium the city had seen to that time was gone.
In the years to follow, there would be new meeting places and new roller rinks. And perhaps that is reassuring for people who like to skate.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.