A lot of what I know about Washington — of how it looks now and of how it looked in the past — is thanks to James M. Goode, the historian and author. He died Dec. 12 at age 80, and I’ll miss being able to call him about some building or statue and ask, “What’s the deal with that?”

Goode always knew the deal. His books — clearly and engagingly written, beautifully printed — are essential references on Washington’s architecture and its outdoor art. They possess a rare quality: They look good on a coffee table and are interesting to read.

I wrote several columns about Goode (pronounced like “mood”) and relied on his expertise for many more. Goode grew up near Asheville, N.C. During his career in Washington, he taught history at George Mason University, worked in the prints and photographs division at the Library of Congress and was the curator of the Smithsonian Castle.

It was during that last role that Goode oversaw the renovation of the crypt containing the body of James Smithson. Since the tomb was going to be open anyway, Goode had the remains examined by an anthropologist, who determined that the Smithsonian benefactor had an extra vertebra.

I once asked Goode how he became so enamored of old bricks and mortar.

“I really got interested in architecture when I was 14 and 15 and 16,” he told me. “I would visit my mother’s sister in Wilmington, [N.C.], and she would take me to historic houses, like the Bellamy Mansion,” he said. “It’s still my favorite.”

The design of grand houses fascinated Goode. So did the people inside them.

“I got interested in the history of houses that way, the cultural history: Who lived there. What they did. Why they were famous. What they contributed.”

Goode’s first book was an outgrowth of a walking tour of downtown statuary he organized in 1970 for the newly-formed Smithsonian Associates.

“A week before the tour, I went to the library to get books out on Washington sculpture — and there weren’t any,” Goode said. He cobbled together a script for the tour by scouring clipping files at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

“Everyone wanted the mimeographed notes,” Goode said. “I said, ‘Well, I’ll do a pamphlet.’ ”

That pamphlet grew to become a book, “The Outdoor Sculpture of Washington, D.C.: A Comprehensive Historical Guide,” published in 1974.

Other books followed, including one on interesting Washington buildings that had been demolished, another on the District’s finest apartment buildings (Goode lived in one himself: the Kennedy-Warren in Woodley Park), and, in 2016, “Capital Houses: Historic Residences of Washington, D.C., and Its Environs.”

When I wrote a column about the second edition of his “Outdoor Sculpture,” published in 2009, I asked Goode if I could rendezvous with him near a statue to take his photo. He suggested downtown Bethesda, Md., and an abstract sculpture by Rodney Carroll called “Dovetail.”

I suspect it wasn’t his favorite kind of artwork — Goode had an Antebellum air about him — but it was convenient to the office where he worked a few days a week as the archivist for the B.F. Saul Co., the development company founded in 1892.

“I’ve had the good fortune to work under four civic leaders in Washington,” Goode later said, reeling off their names: B.F. Saul; S. Dillon Ripley, the head of the Smithsonian; Austin Kiplinger, the publisher and collector of Washingtoniana; and Albert Small, the developer who has endowed a museum on Washington history at George Washington University.

“They were all interested in historic preservation,” Goode said. “I got something from them, and I gave it back.”

Goode helped wealthy collectors of Washington-related paintings, prints, maps, books and manuscripts assemble their collections, in the process gaining knowledge and then using that knowledge for his own books. When he was done, Goode would donate his research materials to such places as the Library of Congress and the Historical Society of Washington.

When I learned Goode had died, I went back through my interview notes and found a conversation we’d had four years ago: You’ve written definitive books on so many interesting Washington topics, I said. What’s next?

“I want to do a book on fountains, if I’m able to physically do it: the fountains of metropolitan Washington, including interior fountains,” Goode said. “I’ve already started.”

I don’t know where that project stood when Goode passed away. But I do know Goode was himself a fountain: a fountain of knowledge, gladly shared.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.