A Picnic by the Gazebo at OSR: 1900

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. 

The Reformatory was designed by Cleveland architect Levi Scofield.

His intention was to create a work of art that was not only solid enough to serve as a prison, but also uplifting and inspiring in its visual impact in such as way as to import depth of refinement and cultural heritage to young men being reformed.
In 1900, therefore, it seemed entirely appropriate for tourists visiting the castle to dress accordingly.

A principle photo op at OSR was the flowery gazebo poised above the waters of what was called Reformatory Lake.

Photographed from the east, this view of the gazebo includes a trestle bridge that once spanned the B&O Railroad tracks running just west of OSR.

Decades of the tourist era at OSR can be documented by the countless different postcards mailed between the 1900s and the 1930s, many of which featured the lake’s gazebo.

OSR’s original gazebo is long gone, but a land-borne version stands on a hill today not far from where the popular landmark once rose above the reflective waters.

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