What We Loved (and didn’t) About Ohio State Reformatory – Mansfield, Ohio

Started in 1886 and completed in 1910, the Ohio State Reformatory is an architectural marvel for its time.

We decided to visit the reformatory after noticing there were a lot of recommendations for it on Ohio travel groups. The raving reviews about how cool it was and us being just 40 minutes away landed it on our list of things to see. Of course, if you’ve been to Malabar State Park, you’ve probably been hyped up on how amazing it is that a movie was shot locally (we aren’t fan girl type people).

So, we went on a road trip to check it out.

What We Loved About Mansfield Reformatory

The building, architecture, cleverness of the cells and the simple but genius way they plummed the building during the era in which it was built left us in awe. They were obviously working with a lot less than we could even imagine back then, but yet they managed to create stone arches and level upon level of steel cells. The light coming in the towering windows made for an eerie, yet beautiful scene. I’d honestly love to run back with my fancy camera and someone in a pretty dress, but I digress.

I struggle with capital punishment and have rather strong opinions about when it’s appropriate, so learning of the mass number of electrocutions that happened there was a lot for me (okay, it wasn’t a lot, but I had questions and there was no one there to answer them – not that it brings any of the people they executed 100 years ago back to life). Couple that with trying to explain it to a six year old… let’s just say I would have skipped that part of the building had I known the chair and accessories were there.

The residence area of the prison shed light on how the guards might have lived. They even staged it a little. It’s suppose to be the most haunted area of the prison. A few scenes from the movie were filmed there, but since it’s Rated R, we didn’t really discuss much of it with the kids because they’d want to watch it. And, asbestos.

The light in the church and medical facility was amazing. The kids had a lot of questions about these areas in particular. There was some of the old pieces of equipment there, but not much. There was an elevator coming up into the sanctuary and a few entrances so inmates could come from various cell blocks.

The church.
The medical facility ceiling.

Solitary confinement freaked the kids out, and if you’ve been reading for a while, you know my kids don’t get freaked out easily. There was a lot of discussion about how horrible it would be in the dark cells with little to no heating and air. No mattresses or blankets. I can imagine more people went insane in those cells than came out reformed.

The light coming in the windows made for a beautiful, yet eerie scene. I am sure the cells in front of the windows were a premium location.

The kids were looking out the window at the new prison behind the old one. You can see inmates walking around out there. There’s a sign that says you’re not allowed to photograph out the window, so here’s my “kids looking at inmates out a window” photo.

While the (prison) historical and movie significance of the Mansfield Reformatory may appeal to many, we found that it was interesting to look at (we love old buildings and architecture), but wasn’t something we would put on a list of places to see. The entry price is rather steep. We recommend getting the hand held devices, but caution you that one, maybe two people can hear what they are saying. The devices are meant to be held to your head like a phone. When you have multiple kiddos with you, it’s a bit inconvenient.

To quote the teenager on this trip “People will visit anything with a gift shop at the end.”

Finally, while this building, the lighting and the history of this building make it appealing, I was slightly concerned with the asbestos issue. We’re an adventurous family and I know that we go to a lot of places that are dangerous (fall risks, crush risks, things eating us risks), but man made yuck risks are a nope for us.

PS. We’ve been told that this place is amazing at Halloween.

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