Ohio Road Tripping: The Mansfield Reformatory/Ohio State Penitentiary Tour

Updated on October 19, 2018
Deb Vesco Roberts profile image

I love to review and share our adventures, which include running/racing, backpacking, camping, road trips, traveling, and cruising.


Walk the Halls of Some of History's Most Infamous Prisoners

Where else can you find both guided and self-guided tours that are available seven days a week from 11 am to 4 pm most days? You can stay and take as long as you like to complete the tour, which includes administrative areas, residential quarters, the chapel, one tier of the East cell block, and the central guard room. There is also a museum and gift shop at the end of the tour. (Check the website for certain restrictions and closures.)

If you really want to know what the life of an inmate was like, join tour guide Michael Humphrey, a former inmate from the 1960s, who provides an accurate portrayal of what it was like to be a prisoner at The Ohio State Reformatory.

Please Note

This tour is not handicap-accessible and includes several flights of stairs.

The Chapel
The Chapel | Source

Facts About the Ohio State Penitentiary

The Ohio Penitentiary/Mansfield Reformatory was built on a 30-acre former Civil War training camp from 1886 to 1910 at a cost of $1.3 million dollars. In April 1955, it housed an all-time high of 5,235 prisoners. The building is a sprawling 250,000 square feet in size.

The original architect for the design was Levi T. Scofield from Cleveland, Ohio, who used three different architectural styles to design this amazing building: Victorian Gothic, Richardsonian Romanesque and Queen Anne. The creation and construction of the building were completed by architect F.F. Schnitzer from Germany.

Did You Know?

This prison has the largest steel cell block in the entire world, consisting of six levels that contain 600 cells!

In 1891, the name was changed from "Intermediate Penitentiary" to "Ohio State Reformatory". The reformatory saw its first 150 prisoners in September of 1896, who arrived via train. The Mansfield Reformatory officially closed its doors in 1990 after housing over 155,000 men in its century-and-a-half lifetime as an Ohio State prison.

The prison was closed via federal court order, known as the Boyd Consent Decree, and was the result of a prisoners' class action suit citing overcrowding and inhumane conditions. The order was served in 1986 but had to be extended to 1990 until the new facility was built, which now stands to the west of the old prison, and is called the Mansfield Correctional Institution. The old reformatory is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Electric Chair
The Electric Chair | Source

Interesting Facts About the Electric Chair Above

In 2015, the chair "Old Sparky"—built in part by Ohio inmate and cabinet-maker Harry Glick in 1897—found its permanent home back at the reformatory, replacing a replica. The last Ohio inmate was executed in it in 1963. From 1897 to 1963, 315 people were put to death, including three women.

Ironically, another inmate who helped improve the operation of the chair in 1900, Charles Justice, was executed in this chair himself, after being found guilty of murder in 1911.

Filmography at the Mansfield Reformatory

This prison was used as a setting for seven films, TV documentaries, and numerous music videos, including several while the facility was still in operation. Some of the most famous movies that you may be familiar with are:

  • The movie that made this prison famous was The Shawshank Redemption, filmed in 1994. The prison was used for the majority of the movie. This Stephen King movie starred Oscar-nominee Morgan Freeman (Red) and Tim Robbins. It is the story of two imprisoned men who bonded over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency.

  • In 1997, Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman and Glenn Close filmed Air Force One at the reformatory for two days. This was a story about an American President (Harrison Ford) and his Russian counterpart who fought back against terrorism by capturing and imprisoning Russian terrorist, Ivan Stravanovitch.

  • In 1989, Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russel play the roles of cops who became prisoners in Tango and Cash, with the many scenes being filmed at the Mansfield Reformatory as they plan their escape.

  • Sylvester Stallone recently filmed another movie at the reformatory called Escape Plan 3: Devil's Station, that is about a rescue of one of their team members who is held captive at the penitentiary, known as Devil’s Station, a prison where no one ever gets out. The release date is still pending.

Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman
Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman | Source

Tours and Special Events at the Reformatory

The Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society was formed in 1995, when they turned the prison into a museum. The tours, like the one you might take after reading this article, helps to fund the revitalization projects that currently stabilize the buildings against further deterioration.

Many special events are held at the reformatory today, including ghost hunts/walks, a haunted house, beer festival, home and garden show, car shows, a road race, and much more. Visit their calendar of events here.

Cell Blocks as They Look Today
Cell Blocks as They Look Today | Source
Cell Blocks as They Look Today
Cell Blocks as They Look Today | Source

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Debra Roberts

    Questions, Comments, and Sharing of Your Own Tour Experiences are Most Welcome!

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      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        4 weeks ago from UK

        This is a very interesting and informative article. The illustrations are great and I especially appreciated the information about film links to the location.

      • Deb Vesco Roberts profile imageAUTHOR

        Debra Roberts 

        4 weeks ago from United States

        I loved Alcatraz when we toured it a few years ago. It is a similar, but no, not quite the crowd!

      • SgtCecil profile image

        Cecil Kenmill 

        4 weeks ago from Osaka, Japan

        I lived in San Francisco for a few years and this reminds me Alcatraz. But (hopefully) it isn't jam-packed with tourists.


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