The Mansfield Reformatory opened in 1896. Architect Levi T. Scofield designed the Prison to resemble the medieval chateaux and castles of Europe. The first inmates were put to work on the prison sewer system and built the 25-foot stone wall that surrounded the 15-acre complex. The east cell block wasn't completed until 1908. The prison was hailed by many as the best prison of its kind when it opened but it drew criticism for overcrowded conditions as early as 1933. Conditions were disgraceful and some said the prison had little or no rehabilitative values.
One of the most violent incidents in the prison’s history occurred outside it’s walls. In July 1948, when the Reformatory’s farm boss, his wife and daughter were kidnapped and shot to death by two parolees bent on revenge. A six state manhunt for the so called mad-dog killers ended in a shoot-out that left Robert Daniels of Columbus in custody and his partner, James West dead. "I’ll get the Chair" Daniels told police as he signed the confession. And on January 3rd, 1949, he did. A year later in 1950 disaster struck again. This time, in the living quarters of the Warden himself. The Warden’s wife, removing a jewelry box from a closet shelf dislodged a pistol from it’s hiding place. When it hit the floor, the gun went off inflicting a fatal wound. And a few years later, even more bad luck. The Warden, hard at work in his office, suffered a heart attack and died.
The prison was officially closed in December of 1990 (due to a court ruling in 1986 that the prison no longer met current federal codes for a prison).

In 1994 the prison walls and several of the support buildings (shoe factory, print shop, dining hall) were demolished but the immense main block of the prison remains intact.

Since the closing, a few major motion pictures were filmed at the historic site, including Tango and Cash and Shawshank Redemption (one of the best films ever made)

The Building was recently purchased by the 'Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society' - a nonprofit organization that's dedicated to preserving and restoring the site. During half the year they host all night 'ghost hunts' - for $50 a person, you can explore the entire prison from dusk 'til dawn with free beverages and pizza.

In August of 2001 we spent the cash and made a reservation to explore the prison. $50 seemed a little expensive, we weren't sure if it would be worth the money or how much access we'd have to the building. We drove to Mansfield on a foggy & rainy night and arrived around 8:00pm. After a brief sign-in we were on our way inside the HUGE prison. With unrestricted access, we walked around for hours taking photos and seeking places we hadn't seen. We explored the six-story iron cellblocks, warden's living quarters, central guard room, bullpen, solitary confinement wing, guard tower and other places. It was amazingly cool to creep around a completely dark, century old prison all night long (especially with free pop and pizza). It was an intense experience, the textures of peeling paint & rusted metal were interesting and overwhelming. $50 is a small price to pay and it's highly recommended. We stayed until 3:30am and certainly got our moneys worth - we'll most likely do it again this summer.