The Blockhouse as an Icon of Mansfield

There is really only one iconic image that has consistently represented Mansfield throughout the greatest part of its history, and that is the Blockhouse. There are other very familiar likenesses of places that can serve as a community identifier—like Kingwood, Oak Hill or OSR—and some significant historic characters like Johnny Appleseed whose symbolic representation evokes the spirit of Mansfield, but there are none that can compare with the city’s long association with its first seminal landmark.

This photo essay explores different images of the Blockhouse, and various ways in which the image has been put to use in defining our civic identity. 

For anyone who doesn’t know what the Blockhouse is: 

One day in South Park when I encountered a small band of kids playing around the Blockhouse I asked them if they knew what it was. There was only one of them who spoke up, and he told me without any doubt that it was Johnny Appleseed’s house. The rest of them nodded like they all knew that to be true. 

In 1936 when kids at Country Day School were assembling their pictures and stories of local history it was only natural to them that the book portray the Blockhouse prominently on its cover.

A Brief Rundown of the Last 200 Years: 

The Blockhouse was built during the War of 1812 when Mansfield stood on the very westernmost edge of the American frontier. As hostilities seemed imminent, the fort-like structure was assembled on the square as a protection for the local population, and to serve as a military outpost for the US Army. 

After the crisis was over, the structure served briefly as Richland County’s first courthouse and seat of government, and as Mansfield’s first church sanctuary. It was then moved to a Second Street alley where it was forgotten for about 90 years.

In commemoration of the city’s 100th birthday in 1908, the Blockhouse was reassembled and restored and placed in the courthouse yard on Diamond Street. Following the year of celebration it was moved to South Park where it served for many decades as the home of Boy Scout Troop 6. 

In commemoration of the City’s 200th birthday in 2008 the structure was disassembled, reconditioned, and restored to higher, dryer ground nearby in South Park.

The historic marker at the entrance to South Park was placed in the early 1950s.

A quick overview of Blockhouse history can be seen in this promotional poster from Mansfield’s Bicentennial in 2008.

The pictures illustrate: a fort in the wilderness; its use as the county courthouse; its dedication in 1908 after the first restoration; its site on the Diamond Street courthouse lawn; its original placement in South Park; its use as a civic design element; its Boy Scout history; and what it looked like just before the 2007 restoration.

A Sense of Heritage, History

From the time it reemerged from obscurity in 1908, Mansfield was proud of its unique landmark from the pioneer past and promoted it as a tourist attraction.  

By the 1910s, there was a local insurance company that used the image of the Blockhouse as an advertising logo, calling themselves a “pioneer in dependable protection.” In the 1930s, the WPA state guidebook series used the Blockhouse image to identify the city; and in the ’40s it appeared on state and national maps as a symbol to mark the location of Mansfield. 

In the 1930s when the Writer’s Program of the Work Projects Administration assembled The Ohio Guide for the American Guide Series, they deemed it most fitting to illustrate the chapter on Mansfield with an image of the Blockhouse.

In the 1950s there were banks in town that wanted the Blockhouse associated with their institutions because it spoke of lasting tradition, safety and security. And quite naturally, when the city celebrated its birthdays at 100, 150 and 200 years, the Blockhouse logo predominated as a potent piece of the past linking the roots of our heritage with the present day. 

In the 1950s and 60s there was a resurgence of local iconography in public display, particularly because of Mansfield’s very popular Sesquicentennial celebration.

Among the representations of the Blockhouse that survive from that time is this modernistic rendering created on the front of a on Park Avenue West at Weldon Avenue.

Images of the Blockhouse incorporated into the logos of financial institutions in Mansfield implied tradition, stability, security.

The First National Bank logo dates from the 1950s, the Insurance logo from 1919.

When First National Bank adopted the Blockhouse as its logo, the image showed up in many and various renderings, including this tile mosaic on their Park Avenue East location (today Mansfield City Utilities Collections building.)

First National even designed their Lexington Avenue location with a cantilevered overhang intending to suggest the form of a blockhouse.

First National Bank commissioned local artist George Biddle to create a series of renderings of the blockhouse in his unique modern style to hang in each of the bank’s locations. Several of them can still be seen today in branch locations of Keybank.

The scouts of Troop 6 were so identified with the Blockhouse where they met, that they were recognized around the country as ‘the Blockhouse Troop.’ Here they recreated their icon for the National Jamboree at Valley Forge in 1964.

The city even had a mobile Blockhouse that made appearances zipping around the street during parades in 2008.

The image of the Blockhouse always becomes prominent during the years when the city celebrates its milestones, like these from birthdays #100, #150, and #200.

The Blockhouse continues to be an ongoing source of inspiration for artists, like this Plein-Air oil rendering done by Lori Jendrisak Smith.

Stained glass historical rendering of the Blockhouse created by Melvin Wagner.

Our little wooden jewel is an extremely rare relic from the primitive times of log construction that has survived long after all other forts have been dismantled or rotted away, and an authentic bookmark placed among the pages of American history marking an exciting and perilous chapter of the story. 

There is power in a symbol that speaks directly to the heart and soul of a person without having to sift through any distracting influence of the intellect.

The image of the Blockhouse, as an icon of our town, has always held the connotation of safety, stability, tradition and a vital connection to authentic American history.

Not a bad set of descriptors for home.

For more background on Mansfield’s historic Blockhouse, watch this seven minute documentary:

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