by Lucy Caswell
The area now known as the Webster Park subdivision was sold to Amason Webster (not “Amazon,” despite the street name) by the Rathbone heirs on May 29, 1846. Webster’s daughter Orell inherited the land upon his death in 1900. In 1909 she and her husband Lewis Legg subdivided the land, and the initial plat shows “Webster Park” at the 1.8 acre site now bounded by North Delta Drive, East Delta Drive, Webster Park Avenue and Olentangy Boulevard (the entire subdivision runs from High Street to Olentangy Boulevard, and from Erie Road to the edge of Whetstone Park).
The City Bulletin of May 8, 1926 records the transfer of this park plot to the city: ”Whereas, the tract…has been preserved in its natural state and protected as a wild bird asylum and wild flower preserve and it is well suited and adapted for such purposes…the same is hereby set aside…as a wild bird asylum and wild flower preserve. …The superintendent of parks…is hereby directed to maintain and protect the same as nearly as possible in its native state…” Columbus Recreation and Parks Department is the city’s administrative unit responsible for Webster Park today.
The provision that the park must be maintained in its “native state” means that, insofar as possible, it should be left alone to allow the native species to follow their natural progression. For example, naturally fallen trees in Webster Park remain where they land, to decay and provide shelter for small animals. The city must provide special permission before any plants can be removed from or added to the park.
For many years, neighbors kept the park litter-free by picking up refuse when they saw it and by organizing occasional clean-up days within the park. In recent years, growth of invasive plants such as euonymus (wintercreeper), English ivy, Asian honeysuckles, and garlic mustard changed the ecosystem of the park significantly. As a result, the volunteer group Friends of Webster Park was organized in 2005 to remove invasive plants under the supervision of the Recreation and Parks Department, and generally to protect and care for this natural area. In 2014 the city’s Nature Preserve Advisory Council voted to name Webster Park as a Nature Preserve.
In the years since the Friends began work, the park has seen a resurgence of wildflowers that had been smothered by the groundcovers, many trees have been saved from damage by removing invasive vines, and the native bushes are thriving with less competition from honeysuckle. One of the park’s outstanding features is the wetland on its west end, unique because it hosts one of Ohio’s very few stands of skunk cabbage.