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Mansfield Reformatory History | A Prison Built on Hope

Here’s a quick Mansfield Reformatory History sheet.

A Gothic prison born of hope in Mansfield, Ohio.  Was completed from 1886 to 1910.  Construction that took years to build up the massive cell blocks.  Inmates moving in and out. The building being used during that time.

Then it was 1910. The new Ohio State Reformatory (aka Mansfield) broke a world record.  Cell blocks an amazing 6 levels high.

Mansfield Reformatory Ohio State - current day building
Current day prison building

The Old Civil War Camp

Put in the perfect location.  Far from the City of Columbus and on the former site of Mordecai Bartley, a once Civil War camp.

Named after a politician from Ohio. Here where Bartley started his career in the year 1812. That is to say the same year as the war.

Gained prominence by raising a local militia to fight the British.

  • Elected as a member of the United States House of Representatives.
  • Bartley represented this Ohio district from March 4, 1823 until March 3, 1831. 
  • Then became governor of Ohio in 1844.
Camp Bartley Civil War historic photo
Soldiers of Company H 120th OVI trained at Camp Bartley in Mansfield
Life in the Camp

Bartley, a well known camp during the Civil War. It was established in 1862 like many others. Moreover known for the difference… it was a military stockade for political prisoners.

The men here were…

  • Public officials
  • Politicians
  • Newspaper publishers

All who defied the new U.S. laws. Above all many encouraging young men to ignore summons to war from the Lincoln government.

Not the worst life by historic accounts. Such as log about camp life in Mansfield saying…

“On pleasant days, and particularly on Sundays, the camp was visited by throngs of people. The evening dress-parade was the crowning feature of each day’s exercises, and was witnessed by hundreds of spectators.”

Uplifting Design

The Mansfield Reformatory History started out on such a great note.

They hired architect Levi Scofield. Certainly for his unique design. Later described as, “half German castle, half Gothic church”. 

Mansfield Reformatory Ohio State - Levi Scofield
Levi Scofield

Believing in psychology, his creation was to provide spiritual uplift. 

As a side, it’s ironic the “spiritual” prison became a ghost magnet. On the other hand, most harsh Gothic designs tend to. For example, the buildings at the University of Toronto.

Mansfield Reformatory via the Cleveland Memory Project (Mansfield Library) | Main Building
Historic Photo of Mansfield buildings

Other prisons focused on revenge and suffering. The Reformatory was meant to be about motivation, rehabilitation and mercy. Motivating criminals to greater things.

It ran on this intention for 100 years. Finally closing New Year’s Eve in 1990.

For this reason… cruel by modern standards!


Shawshank and Movies at Mansfield

I’d be missing something. If not mentioning such a popular subject before you started your journey into the Darker History and Ghosts of this impressive building.

Yes, this was the main filming location of Shawshank Redemption. Also filmed here…

And a host of many other smaller movies and projects.

Walkthrough from YouTube

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