The Seven Hills of Mansfield

It has been well established in 2,800 years of world lore that the ancient City of Rome was built upon a series of seven hills.  The fabled ‘Seven Hills of Rome’ was a common trope throughout early American culture as the nation took root, and then schoolbooks in the 19th and 20th centuries gave the expression relevance to generations of Ohio kids.

So when authors, planners, leaders, and speakers suggested that the City of Mansfield was built upon Seven Hills, everyone knew exactly what that meant, and what kind of epic fate and grandeur it was intended to imply.

Local civic enthusiasts first wrote of the city’s topography in terms of Seven Hills in 1850s newspapers. It became a matter of national record in the 1920s when the Lincoln Highway passed through town and the Seven Hills were mentioned in guidebook literature.

The most prominent endorsement of the idea, however, came in 1927 when acclaimed author Louis Bromfield wrote in his best-selling novel:

The Town stood built like Rome upon Seven Hills, which were great monuments of earth and stone left by the last great glacier, and on these seven hills and in the valleys which surrounded them a whole city, created within the space of less than a century, had raised houses and shops… 

A Good Woman, p.72

In the days of Bromfield’s childhood, the people of Mansfield were much more aware of the hills than we are today.  In a world where people walked or drove teams of horses to get where they were going, they were far more conscious of the effort it took to get up or down a steep hill.  In today’s world, we have lost a great deal of that awareness because the automobile has leveled the energy it takes to go from one part of town to another. 

But in earlier days, everyone visiting the town arrived on the train, which stopped in the Flats; and to get to downtown they had to go uphill.  Writers from newspapers in other cities in Ohio like Cleveland, Columbus and Akron referred to Mansfield as the “City on a Hill.”

So what are the Seven Hills of Mansfield?

The Mansfield News, November 16, 1924.

There is documentation from the 1920s and ’30s attempting to enumerate specific steep streets and neighborhoods as the designated hills of legend, but these lists vary according to whatever cause the writer was trying to promote.

I have undertaken to narrow the possibilities down using two criteria: the first is from traditional and folkloric names associated with sites—such as “Oak Hill.”  The second criteria is far more fundamental in the understanding of practical city memory and usage—quite simply: where did the kids of earlier generations take their sleds?  You can be sure the old toboggan run is a valid landmark hill.


1 Central Park

In the earliest literature concerning the city, the site upon which the Public Square was established was referred to as ‘the Mansfield heights.’  The placement of the center of town was made in relation to the nearest source of water, but it was clearly intended to stand atop a prominent hill with a view. Central Park is the original high ground.

Looking from the Square in the 1890s, the Flats district to the north is clearly downhill.
This photo of the Central Park hill, taken in the 1910s, is a mirror to the view above.
The steep quality of North Main Street is captured at night in this photo by Vic Day, taken near the SW corner of Fourth Street in 1938.

2 Goat Hill

The most significant hill seen from the Square is to the south, and was for many generations commonly known as South Hill. People said that the cemetery was on South Hill.

In the city’s early decades, however, it was referred to in newsprint and diaries as Goat Hill. Back then, the County Fair Grounds were situated at the brink of the hill, in the area where today Lexington Avenue diverges from South Main Street. In the early 20th century, there was a Goat Hill Gun Club hosting a turkey shoot every year; and in the 1960s there was still a Goat Hill Garden Club.

The hill extends as a ridge to east and west, providing a number of steep streets: most notably the Hedges Street hill, that was known in 1907 as the ‘Mecca for coasters,” (sleds), when thousands of kids and parents showed up on icy nights to race downhill.

So how high IS Goat Hill?

When President Barack Obama came to make a speech in Mansfield in 2012, the Secret Service cordoned off a vacant house on Goat Hill—just off South Main Street at the end of Burnese Avenue—because an upper story window afforded a clear shot at the front of the Reeds Building, on the Square, where the podium was set.

This view looking down the South Main Street hill was taken in 1932 when the cemetery streetcar tracks still ran up the pavement. The picture was printed in the Rotogravure section of the Mansfield News to show off the city’s new skyscrapers.
The Mansfield News, February 8, 1908. The story also includes reports of large sledding crowds on Diamond Street, South Adams Street, Hedges Street, and West Third Street.
A 1938 photo taken from somewhere up on the Hedges School hill, scanned from a Vic Day negative. It is so rare to find a picture that really captures this quality of ‘City on a Hill.’

Sturges Hill

The most famous of Mansfield’s hills in the 1930s was Sturges Avenue Hill. The drop between Cline and Glessner Avenues was the site in 1937 of the first Soap Box Derby held in Mansfield.

The drop, 1,000 feet long and paved in bricks, provided enough gravity to propel Derby cars up to 35 MPH.

Studied carefully on a topographical map of the city, the Sturges hill is actually a separate angle of the Goat Hill/South Hill rise of Mansfield.

On July 29, 1937, more than 16,000 spectators lined Sturges Avenue to watch 110 cars race down the hill in three lanes.
This snapshot of Mansfield General Hospital taken in 1918 clearly shows the high ground upon which it stands: the hill rising in the background has the steep Sturges Avenue hill where the Soap Box Derby was originally held.
This photo of the city in 1911 was taken from the Courthouse tower. Looking southwest, the wave of terrain is apparent which separates two hills of Mansfield: to the left South Hill (Goat Hill) which includes the Sturges Avenue racing hill, and to the right the Marion Avenue/Clover Hill heights.

3 Clover Hill

The major hill located west of Central Park rises from the southern curbs of Park Avenue West about a half-mile west of the Square. Referred to as Marion Avenue Hill in the 1920s, it was known in the 1800s as Clover Hill–named for the home and estate of early city benefactor Roeliff Brinkerhoff, at the corner of Bartley Avenue.

The steepest inclination of this hill is found at Sherman Avenue, where cars used to pile up on icy days. Before the city covered the land with houses and streets, this countryside hilltop was an apple orchard.

Clover Hill was the name given to the home of Gen. Roeliff Brinkerhoff, and also to the four acre estate surrounding it, as well as the entire hilltop it sat upon. The twelve-room mansion, built in 1869, was demolished in 1954 to make way for the then new YMCA, which has recently itself been demolished.
The steep side of the Marion Avenue/Clover Hill elevation is most apparent from the streets which go up the hill from Park Avenue West, like this one at Douglas Avenue. Photographed around 1910.

Mortgage Hill

Traveling west on West Third Street, the pavement rises suddenly into a significant hill at Sycamore Street: this is Mortgage Hill. So named in the early 20th century when Third Street was finally cut through the back of the Sherman Estate, and town lots there became available for building. Apparently they weren’t cheap.

Mortgage Hill is contiguous with Clover Hill, and is another side element of that west-end elevation.

The home of Senator John Sherman (1823-1900) faced Park Avenue West, but his sizable estate extended north of there enough to block the expansion of popular neighborhoods. When he died in 1900, the mansion was soon dismantled and the acreage cut into great sledding venues.
This snapshot taken from a scrapbook assembled by the Sherman family when they lived on Park Avenue West, captures the hilltop view from the Mortgage Hill area. Looking NNW, the hill seen in the background is the Lumberman’s/Country Club landmark, today on State Route 39 north of Route 30.
Mansfield News-Journal January 27, 1938. Enumerated as sledding venues are three of the hills in this story: Sturges Hill, Mortgage Hill, and Oak Hill.

4 Oak Hill

For the sake of identification, the hill rising NW of the tracks in Mansfield is designated here as Oak Hill–even though the actual site of Oak Hill Cottage makes up only a small element of that larger hilltop.

This area, known today as the North End community, was laid out in the 1910s-’20s anticipating an appreciable bump in population as the city’s industries blossomed. The neighborhoods there were known at that time as Bowman Heights because the view overlooking downtown made it evident that it was the city’s high ground.

Oak Hill Cottage, photographed here in the 1920s, was built in 1847 on a glacial prominence rising from the swampy lowlands north of town. At that time, the estate was well removed from populous parts of town, and it was several generations later when city neighborhoods and industry expanded to surround and engulf the site.
This view of downtown from Oak Hill Cottage gives good indication of its hilltop location, and hints at the even more comprehensive views to be found higher up in the Bowman Heights.
Advertisement from the Mansfield News-Journal in 1921.

5 Lumbermens Hill

In our time it is still known as Lumbermens Hill, even though the Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company’s offices closed more than 30 years ago. In the 1800s, the place was known as Geddes Hill because that was where Judge George W. Geddes established his estate. After he was gone, his home was appropriated by the insurance company, who eventually built an impressive complex on the site.

This hill has been alternately referred to, since 1906, as Country Club Hill because that is when the Westbrook Outing Club moved their golfing links up onto the heights.

This image echoes back to the Civil War era when a Union Army training camp was established at the foot of Judge Geddes’ hill. The home seen in this view survived Judge Geddes (1824-1892) to become the original headquaters of Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company.
Entance to Lumbermens Hill in the 1930s, where the drive meets State Route 39.
Aerial photo of Lumbermens Hill by Tom Root in the 1950s, with Route 30 bypass construction in the foreground; Westbrook in the background.
The northern half of Lumbermens Hill is the home of Westbrook Country Club, which looked like this in 1920. This particular clubhouse seen here burned in the 1940s, and was rebuilt in a different style of architecture.
This photo from Geddes HIll was published in Art Work of Richland and Crawford Counties: published in twelve parts, 1894. Today this view includes US Route 30 in the immediate foreground.


6 Quarry Hill

One of Mansfield’s famous hills is clearly visible from Central Park, rising on the NE horizon: the sandstone quarry. Today is is bisected by US Route 30 so that its rich heart of pink sandstone is on display to anyone traversing the city’s eastern portal.

A considerable number of homes, foundations, businesses and public structures of the 19th century in Richland County were built from this ancient sandstone mound carved by glaciers.
The quarry went by different names through the decades according to who owned it at the time, but its unique pink sandstone became known around the nation and identified with Mansfield.

7 Ashland Hill

The best view overlooking Mansfield through most of its history was from the top of Ashland Hill. In 1931, the scenic overlook was designated as ‘Point Kiwanis’ when that service organization undertook to provide a graded parking area at the top for panoramic viewing.

Photographed in the mid-1920s to document the Lincoln Highway, this is a stretch of State Route 42 approaching the bottom of Ashland Hill near Eighth Avenue.
This photo was taken from the top of Ashland Hill before 1900. At that time people knew the landmark as Sherman Hill because much of the land was owned by Senator John Sherman, whose summer house is seen in the foreground, partway up the slope.
This view from the top of Ashland Hill was taken in 1938 by photographer Vic Day. Due to the long exposure necessary for a night photo, the main landmark of this scene is overbrightened: a huge neon sign atop the Westinghouse plant which read, “Every House Needs Westinghouse.” A dozen years later the sign was altered to read, “You can Be Sure if it’s Westinghouse.”

During the decades when Route 42 was the chief thoroughfare from Cleveland to Columbus, this view was enjoyed by hundreds of thousands–perhaps millions– of travelers passing through Mansfield.


13 comments

    • This is something I have never seen before Thank you so much for this peek into my families past it’s an unexpected Surprise I’ll remember this forever God Bless America 🇺🇸 and the 7( Gods Perfect Number) Hill of Richland County 😊💖🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

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  1. This is such a lovely article. Thank you, for what must have been a tremendous amount of time and effort. It truly enriched my understanding of the place we call home. Well done!

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  2. Outstanding article documenting Mansfield’s rich history. Thank you for the time and effort it must have taken to research and write it.

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  3. What an interesting and well written article. Although I have lived in Crestline most of my life, Mansfield was always the big city to go shopping. Loved going downtown Mansfield!

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  4. This is very interesting to see. I was born July 19, 1937 and one picture gave A DATE OF jULY 29, 1937. I wishy it had a share

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  5. What a lovely place to grow up! Richland county was filled with rich land….green grass…fresh air…. lovely hills to bike up and coast down…friendly neighbors…

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  6. What an excellent article. I was unaware of the seven bills before now. Fascinating to see familiar locations as they were decades ago. Thank you for for this delightful time capsule.

    Like

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