By 1812Blockhouse

Today we continue our Landmarks of Mansfield series with a look at one of Richland County’s foremost tourist attractions.

The Ohio State Reformatory was built between 1886 and 1910 and remained in operation until 1990, when it was ordered to be closed by a U.S. Federal Court ruling. The reformatory was intended to serve as an “intermediate” prison between the Boys Industrial School in Lancaster and the State Penitentiary in Columbus. It was meant to house young, first-time offenders rather than hardened criminals.

Key Facts about the Ohio State Reformatory

  • Location: 100 Reformatory Road, Mansfield, Ohio
  • Coordinates: 40°47’07″N 82°30’18″W
  • Area: 40 acres (16 ha)
  • Architect: Levi T. Scofield
  • Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
  • Construction: Began in 1886, completed in 1910
  • Operated as a prison: 1896 – 1990
  • Closed by U.S. Federal Court ruling in 1990

History and Notable Events

The reformatory was built on the site of a former Civil War training camp called Camp Mordecai Bartley. The first 150 inmates were transferred there in 1896 and helped complete the construction, including building the 25-foot tall wall surrounding the facility. 2Over the years, the reformatory saw its share of violence and tragedy. Two corrections officers were killed on the grounds, and several inmates were executed in the electric chair at the Ohio Penitentiary for crimes committed at the reformatory. In 1948, two former inmates kidnapped and murdered the prison’s farm superintendent, his wife, and their daughter.

Current Status and Attractions

After the reformatory closed in 1990, the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society was formed to restore and maintain the facility. It is now open to the public for tours and various events, including:

  • History Meets Hollywood tours
  • Beyond the Bars tours with access to off-route areas
  • Old Sparky Electric Chair tours
  • Ghost tours and paranormal investigations
  • The annual INKcarceration Music & Tattoo Festival
  • The Halloween “Blood Prison” haunted attraction345

The reformatory has also been used as a filming location for numerous movies, TV shows, and music videos, most notably The Shawshank Redemption in 1994. A 30th anniversary celebration for the film is planned for August 2024.


The original architect for the design was Levi T. Scofield from Cleveland, who used a combination of three architectural styles: Victorian Gothic, Richardsonian Romanesque, and Queen Anne. Scofield designed the striking limestone building to be an uplifting, inspiring, and intimidating structure. The exterior of the building is designed in the Romanesque style, giving the frontage a castle-like appearance.

The reformatory was intended to encourage inmates to turn away from their sinful lifestyles and toward repentance through the building’s unique architectural styles. The architectural plan is known to be a compilation of elements from several different castles and palaces. The combination of these diverse architectural styles was meant to have a profound psychological impact on the inmates and inspire them toward rehabilitation and reform.

Other Worldly Experiences

The Ohio State Reformatory) is reported to have significant paranormal activity and haunted occurrences, including:

  • Inmates reported experiencing “invisible hands grasping at them” and unsettling noises while in their cells at night.
  • Tour guides and visitors have reported hearing odd noises, such as movement and mumbling, in empty cells and vacant corridors. Some have even claimed to see shadowy figures or have been pushed over railings.
  • The basement is said to be haunted by the ghost of a 14-year-old boy who was beaten to death there, as well as a more sinister, nefarious entity believed to be his murderer.
  • The “Hole”, a series of small isolation cells, is considered a hotspot for paranormal activity. Visitors report experiencing nausea, cold spots, and an overall unsettling feeling when entering this area.
  • The chapel/sanctuary is also described as having a lingering, unsettling presence that makes some visitors feel the urge to leave quickly.
  • The reformatory has a complex and often dark history, with over 100 prisoner deaths from disease, murder, and suicide. This history is believed to have contributed to the high level of paranormal activity reported at the site. 

In summary, the Ohio State Reformatory is widely regarded as one of the most haunted locations in the United States, with a variety of ghostly encounters and unexplained phenomena reported by both staff and visitors over the years.

Sources, Photo: Wikipedia; Ohio Exploration Society; Destination Mansfield – Richland County; National Property Inspections; Dark Art & Craft

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