About Ohio State Reformatory
Designed by famed prison architect and Cleveland native Levi Scofield and built between 1886 and 1910, Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio is a magnificent building. It crosses three architectural styles – Victorian Gothic, Richardsonian Romanesque and Queen Anne – and is best known as the prison where The Shawshank Redemption was filmed.
History of the Ohio State Reformatory
The origins of OSR date back to the 19th century: Mansfield was suggested as a site that would be suitable for a new penitentiary. The new facility cost around $1.5 million dollars to build – including the purchase of the land on which it was built. Construction took over 20 years due to funding delays.
Levi Scofield deisgned the building: it was originally intended for first-time offenders to be humanely rehabilitated and the architecture was supposed to ‘encourage inmates back to a rebirth of their spiritual lives…away from their sinful lifestyle and toward repentance’. It opened in 1896: the first prisoners were put to work helping with the construction of the prison’s sewer system.
OSR quickly became the domain of the very worst criminals in the American penal system. Described variously as ‘brutal’, ‘inhumane’, ‘disgraceful’ and ‘unfit for human habitation’, the penitentiary was closed by court order in 1990: prisoners made a class action suit on grounds of inhumane conditions and intense overcrowding. OSR has a dark yet utterly fascinating history that is brought to life thanks to the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society, who are in the midst of major restoration and renovation.
Ohio State Reformatory today
Self-guided tours of the infamous prison are available but we’d suggest one of the guided tours including the Hollywood Tour where you’ll see Warden Norton’s office, the Parole Board room and Andy Dufresne’s Rita Hayworth-covered escape tunnel. You’ll also see the cell block used in Harrison Ford’s Air Force One.
The West Tower Tour gives you the view from the Guard Tower and the numerically-assigned cemetery and you can walk the length of the world’s largest freestanding steel cell block during the the East Cell Block Tour. The behind The Scenes Tour takes you down into the sub-basement, into the yard where Andy and Red would sit and talk and you’ll hear gruesome stories of inmate punishment, of deplorable conditions, brutal guards, inedible food, rats and disease as well as ‘the sweatbox’ and ‘the hole’…
One of the most popular tours at OSR is Paranormal Penitentiary created by Hollywood FX maestro Robert Kurtzman and there are also night-time ghost hunts. Visitors have long-claimed to have seen and heard ghostly screams, voices and visions of cons and even the warden and his wife who was brutally murdered by two escapees in the late 1940s.
If you’re looking for one of the world’s best prison tours, come and visit Red, the only guilty man in Shawshank.
Getting to Ohio State Reformatory
OSR is on Reformatory Road in Mansfield, just off Route 545, in the north west of the town. There’s parking nearby. Mansfield is about a 90 minute drive from Cleveland via the I-11, or just over an hour north of Columbus, also via the I-11. You’ll struggle to get here via public transport.