By 1812Blockhouse

Ohio, rich in history and culture, holds numerous gems waiting to be discovered. For OSU Public Media, one of these, the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield stands out as a unique blend of architectural splendor and haunting tales. Once a functioning prison, it has transformed into a tourist destination, offering visitors a glimpse into the past and a taste of the eerie legends that surround it. This transformation is vividly captured in an episode where architectural historian Jeff Darbee takes viewers on an exclusive tour of this historic site.

Architectural Marvels and Historical Significance

Constructed beginning in 1886 and completed in 1910, the Ohio State Reformatory’s design is a striking mix of Romanesque, Gothic, and Queen Anne styles. Levi Schofield, the architect, envisioned a building that would inspire inmates to reform, moving away from the traditional punitive architecture of prisons.

Schofield’s vision materialized in the imposing structure that greets visitors today. The grandeur of the reformatory’s exterior is matched by its interior, where original brickwork and stained glass windows offer a glimpse into the craftsmanship of the late 19th century. The reformatory’s West Cell Block, recognized as the largest freestanding steel cell block in the world, stands six tiers high, a testament to both the ambition and the grim reality of the institution.

A Step Back in Time

Upon entering the reformatory, viewers of the OSU Public Media episode are transported back to a different era. The first stop on the tour is the Central Guard Room, where new inmates were processed upon arrival. This room, with its wavy ceilings designed to maintain structural integrity, now houses the Ohio Corrections Museum. The museum features artifacts not only from the Ohio State Reformatory but also from other correctional facilities across Ohio, providing a comprehensive overview of the state’s penal history.

The tour continues to the prison chapel, a space that once hosted Protestant and Catholic services, fostering a semblance of normalcy and spiritual solace for the inmates. The chapel’s stained glass windows, remarkably preserved, add to the room’s serene yet somber ambiance.

Tales from the Cells

One of the most captivating aspects of the Ohio State Reformatory, as highlighted in the episode, is its connection to paranormal activities. Many visitors and staff have reported ghostly encounters, particularly in the East Cell Block. Stories of unexplained footsteps, voices, and even apparitions have turned the reformatory into a hotspot for ghost hunters and thrill-seekers.

One staff member, Ashleigh, recalls a chilling experience while closing the building alone one winter night. She distinctly heard her name being called out, despite being the only person in the building. Such stories, along with the reformatory’s Gothic architecture, contribute to its reputation as one of the most haunted places in Ohio.

Preserving a Legacy

After its closure in 1990, the reformatory faced an uncertain future. However, thanks to the efforts of preservationists, it has been saved from demolition and transformed into a historical site. The reformatory is now maintained by a dedicated team of restoration experts who have painstakingly worked to return the building to its former glory.

Among the many artifacts preserved is the original safe from the movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” which was filmed at the reformatory. The safe was returned by a collector and now stands as a testament to the reformatory’s place in popular culture.

Community and Education

According to the episode, today the Ohio State Reformatory is more than just a relic of the past. It serves as an educational center, offering enrichment programs that highlight the history of corrections and the importance of reform. Visitors can participate in various events, including ghost hunts and historical tours, ensuring that the reformatory remains a vibrant part of the community.

The reformatory also plays a role in local tourism, drawing visitors from around the world to Mansfield. This influx of tourists has contributed to the revitalization of downtown Mansfield, which boasts a beautifully restored carousel and numerous shops and restaurants.

The episode can be viewed here.

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