The Genius of Design Behind OSR

There is a certain kind of genius behind the design of the historic Ohio State Reformatory.  That sounds like an idle statement but it’s really not because if you research back into the architecture of our old castle, and search beyond the architect into the distant past, you will literally find a bona fide genius behind it all.  Let me explain.

The Architect

The design of OSR was the inspiration of one man: Levi Scofield, who was an architect from Cleveland.  Though there are other buildings of his still in existence, he is best remembered today for  the massive Soldiers and Sailor’s Monument in Cleveland Public Square. 

He was chosen for the task of coming up with a design for the new penal intitute in Mansfield because he embraced the visionary philosphy that inspired the place.  It was to be an experimental new prison with a specific intention: to keep young convicts away from old convicts who might school them in the ways of crime.  It was called an Intermediate Penitentiary—like a halfway house—where young minds would have the opportunity to re-form in healthy surroundings.

It was Scofield’s conviction that inmates of the Intermediate Penetentiary could have their aspirations lifted to a higher spiritual plane by living in sublime surroundings that were charged with culture, refinement and ancient tradition.  To this end his design was based on a historic 16th Century castle in France—the Chateau de Chambord—whose turrets and spires echo back to a civilized age of high ideals and chivalry in order to inspire the young men of OSR to a renaissance of their character and an uplifted code of ethics.

The Design

The OSR plan is known to be a compilation of architectural elements from several different castles and palaces, but it is easy to see that with a little stretching, cutting, cloning and unfolding like a Transformer, it wouldn’t take all that much imagination to turn the French Chambord into the Mansfield Reformatory.

Though the Chateau de Chambord stands in the middle of France, its design from the 1520s is clearly influenced by the Italian Renaissance and, in fact, the famous castle is reputed to have been designed by no less a genius than Leonardo Da Vinci.

So when you lift your eyes to admire the architecture of OSR today, your awe has its origins back in the inspiration of one of the greatest minds of history.

Though Levi Scofield designed many residences and public buildings in his career, he is most noted today for two well known landmarks: the massive Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Cleveland Public Square, and the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield.
The elegant design of the prison was intended to lift young mens’ aspirations to a higher spiritual plane, much as glimpsing in the distance an ethereal palace that seems too perfect for this world.
An important element in the design of Chateau de Chambord is its decorative moat. The Ohio State Reformatory couldn’t really use a full moat, but it does have a pond designed for reflecting and reflection.
Echoes of the inspiration of Chambord in the architecture of OSR are evident in this night photograph taken in 1899.
Even though Chateau de Chambord was built after the ages when a castle required defenses, it was equipped with round corner bastions.

This Medieval bastion motif is clearly echoed in the design of OSR in guard towers and smaller round tower structures.


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