The 5-Way Light on Park Avenue West: A 150-year Work in Progress

Just lately heavy machinery has been chowing down on the Park Avenue West streetscape, and revising the way a city block looks near the 5-way light.

As iron jaws do the work of chewing up the past, folks heave a wistful sigh at the end of an era as they watch the familiar landscape segue into history.

But at this particular intersection any new demolition is not really a milestone in time so much as a continuation of an era that never stopped ending and beginning:  because this little corner of the city has been in a state of slow renovation for at least 150 years.

This place on the map, where all these streets come together, has only ever managed to remain unchanged for a generation at a time before it is erased again and redrawn.

What any city does if it is healthy is recycle and revise and revision. 

Nothing is more certain than the collision between changing societal values and unchanging brick and mortar.

There is no intersection in our town that has seen a wider range of reconfiguration through time than the place where Park Avenue West, Bowman Street, Marion Avenue and Sturges Avenue all converge.

The changes have been innumerable throughout the eras, far too many to document. Fortunately we have photos, so here are some highlights.

This detail from an 1853 wall map of Mansfield shows how our “5-way light” started out as a simple fork in the road where Marion Avenue diverged from Park Avenue (originally named Market Street.) The place where the Sturges Avenue hill would eventually be added to the map was, at that time, the property of E.P. Sturges; and the place where Bowman Street would be laid out was the home site of Roeliff Brinkerhoff.

The 1882 Atlas of the City of Mansfield shows the downtown spreading out beyond the 5-way light, but there still was no Bowman Street. When it was carved into the plat in the 1890s a number of Park Avenue homes had to make way.

An early landmark near the 5-way light was this distinctive 1849 house, significant as the first Mansfield home of Senator John Sherman. It stood on the north side of the street, a few doors east of where Bowman Street was placed. When Sherman’s fortunes rose in the Federal Government he traded up and moved to a mansion farther out Park Avenue West.

In the years after Senator Sherman left this house it transformed into, what was noted in early annals as, the first ‘apartment house’ in town. Known as ‘The Sherman,’ it stood until 1955 when many of the Park Avenue West homes were removed for business properties.

The southeast corner of Park Avenue West and Sturges Avenue was considered the most prime piece of real estate in downtown Mansfield for many generations. The city once negotiated with the last owner of this house to acquire the land for the main post office. Built in 1882 for the Weavers, the house was a bright center of the city’s social life when the Henry and Helen lived there; and then a dark spooky place when their reclusive son occupied the place. It was auctioned off in the late 1950s.

When the Weaver house was removed the corner of Park Avenue and Sturges became a center of Mansfield’s social life again as the Downtown Motor Lodge was claimed the spot in 1961. It lasted until 2010 when the land was remade into a grassy knoll.

The southwest corner of Park Avenue West and Sturges Avenue as it currently appears. This image contains roughly the same view as the photo below.

Of these three impressive homes on Sturges Avenue only one remains today: the Bushnell House, seen on the far left of the photo; a longtime home of Mansfield’s auto license bureau.

The Sturges hill that rises from Park Avenue had the most elite neighborhood in the city during the generations from the 1880s to the 1920s. As the high ground overlooking everything north of Park Avenue, it provided manufacturing magnates, bank officers, business executives, and their associated socialite families a place from which to look down on the rest of the town.

Tree-lined brick streets and Model T Fords: that was downtown Mansfield in the 1920s. St. Luke’s stood on the point at the five-way intersection of Park Avenue, Marion, Bowman and Sturges, as it still does today; a still point around which flows traffic and the many drastic streetscape changes of ongoing decades.

The trees disappeared in the 1950s when Park Ave was widened, and many of the old homes were gone shortly thereafter making way for businesses, gas stations and the huge motel.

Something lovely and homey was lost when Mansfield’s main artery expanded to accommodate the new world we live in.

St. Luke’s Lutheran Church was built in 1891 at Marion Avenue and Park Avenue West in the design of an “English country parish church.” A hundred years later a clock was placed in the tower in completion of the architect’s original vision.
The angular city lot is today known as the Point of Grace occupied by Church Requel.

Overlooking the 5-way light for more than 125 years is this unique sculptural configuration atop the church tower, that does both sacred duty as a Christian cross, and secular service as a lightning rod.

The profound change which the Park Avenue 5-way light area has undergone in the last 150 years is easily recognized with a comparison of these two photos: one from 1894 and the other from today. Both look east toward Central Park. Back when the street was residential and tree-lined, every house had a ‘horse block’ on the curb to help folks descend from their carriages.

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