It is easy to guess that in 1896, when the Intermediate Penitentiary opened in Mansfield, people around here had never seen anything like it. Or people in Ohio and the entire Midwest for that matter. And for the next 30 years the place became something of a tourist attraction.
There was a regular Reformatory streetcar that brought people out from town, and the trolley was routed past the Railroad station in order to pick up out-of-town sight-seers as well.
The grounds of the institution were kept immaculate by the inmates, and planted with gardens and walking paths, with a scenic dockside gazebo overlooking the lake. For many years OSR was one of the most popular picnic grounds in the area and people came out to be inspired by the Old-World aura of the place like a Medieval fantasy transplanted into the heart of the American Midwest.
By today’s standards it’s hard to imagine a time when folks were encouraged to loiter around the outside of a working prison, but back in its day the Reformatory was a splendid display of tax dollars at work, so tourists were not only welcome but accommodated… with box lunches prepared in the Reformatory kitchens.