Hey, friends, here’s one everybody can explore! For $15 a pop (if you aren’t a professional photographer), preservationists at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, OH, would be happy to show you around.
Romantically designed to inspire spiritual rebirth and still holding the record for world’s largest freestanding cell block (six tiers), it’s no surprise that local architecture lovers passionately worked to save the former Ohio State Reformatory after its closure in the ’80s. It was modeled after a French castle, designed across three architectural styles (Gothic, Romanesque, and Queen Anne) to inspire spiritual rebirth in its occupants. The first prisoners arrived from Columbus in 1896.
Many of the prisoners were transferred elsewhere in the 1970’s. A prisoner’s class action lawsuit over inhumane, crowded conditions resulted in a court order for the penitentiary’s closure by 1986, its centennial anniversary, later amended to 1990. Indeed, even though I had to squash my tripod legs together and hope for the best in terms of image stability because there wasn’t enough room for three tripod legs, each cell in the main blocks was meant to, and did, house two inmates. They Solitary confinement cells were about the same size, but darker and with single beds.
As a grassroots preservation effort struggled to improve the Reformatory’s uncertain fate, a movie crew who’d been searching for the perfect set settled on the uniquely beautiful prison as the location for the Shawshank Redemption. Bits and pieces of the set remain within Ohio State, which offers regular tours, today.
(There’s also a nice little museum of objects from the prison’s past, for those of us who like those personal details.)