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My ticket to the Ohio State Reformatory was complimentary, but all opinions and photographs are my own.
If you know me, you know I love to visit and share unique spots that aren’t typically “touristy,” and my most recent trip was just that – not touristy and super unique! I also love to visit popular TV and movie filming locations when I’m traveling since there are almost always great photo opportunities, great indoor/outdoor visuals, and plenty to learn. I’m a huge (HUGE – like, since childhood) fan of The Shawshank Redemption, and guess what, I took myself to visit the Ohio State Reformatory because it was a filming location for the film from the early 1990s. I’m excited to share some history, photos, and more of my experience with you today!
From the beginning, I was planning to hit a few hotspots on The Shawshank Trail. The Ohio State Reformatory is obviously a major hub for that since the movie takes place in a prison and was partially filmed in the prison. Still, Mansfield, Ohio, and the surrounding area is home to SEVERAL filming locations for The Shawshank Redemption. So it was a fun couple of days exploring the area.
Built in 1886, the land where the reformatory sits was once a Civil War training camp before the reformatory was constructed. In 1896, the first 150 offenders became residents at the reformatory. Since the building was still very new, they were mostly put to work completing plumbing and sewer projects. The facility was operational until December 1990 when it was closed by the federal government.
When you drive up, it almost looks like a castle just off the side of the interstate. It’s quite striking when you drive up and see the structure. Since it’s designed in a Romanesque style, it’s very easy to recognize as you approach with its limestone and turrets. The Ohio State Reformatory does look a little daunting, but that didn’t stop me….and alllllll of the other approximately 120,000 people who visit each year.
After the facility closed in 1990, the grounds sat empty for several years. A group of locals came together to purchase the building for $1 (seriously!). Now, the building is run by a non-profit committed to maintaining the building and its history.
Fun Fact: You may have seen this building in such films as Judas and the Black Messiah, Harry and Walter Go to New York, Tango and Cash, Air Force One, and Escape Plan: The Extractors. You could have also seen it featured on Scariest Places on Earth or Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel or Syfy’s Ghost Hunters or Ghost Hunters Academy.
I LOVE creepy, strange, random, and off-the-beaten-path places, and this building checks off every box on this list. I visited on a weekday morning as soon as they opened, so the crowds were minimal and parking was super simple. I highly recommend coming early to get in before crowds – ESPECIALLY if you want to take photos or videos.
You have some choices on how you want to explore the building when you arrive. You have the choice to join a guided tour or a self-guided tour (what I did). They also host topic-specific tours at certain times – check their website for current offerings. The self-guided tour gets you an audio wand and you’re free to peruse. You’ll find these little placards on the walls throughout the reformatory to tell you what audio cue corresponds with the area.
You can walk the East Cell Block, the world’s largest, free-standing steel cell block. Basically, you could knock out the ceiling, and all the walls and the cell block would still be standing.
The temperature inside the Ohio State Reformatory will match the outdoors. There are many open windows, and it’s drafty, so I wore my winter coat throughout my visit because there had literally been a spring snowstorm the day before.
Visiting the reformatory does require some agility. Take your time (I was there…for hours) and look at all the nooks and crannies. The audio tour is very thorough, there’s plenty to read and see on the walls. Plenty of details from cell to cell and room to room and if you blink, you’ll miss them. Keep your camera handy and really take in the surroundings. Be aware there are narrow walkways, small spaces, stairs, and the building is large, so you’ll get LOTS of steps.
It’s easy to see why so many people consider this place haunted or have experience experiences with “spirit” here. I’m not sensitive to that (like, at all), but I do enjoy those types of opportunities.
Where is the Ohio State Reformatory?
Address: 100 Reformatory Rd, Mansfield, OH 44905 – Specifically, it’s in Mansfield, Ohio. That said, the Ohio State Reformatory is likely the most visited attraction in Richland County, Ohio.
Need more photos or video?
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS: Have you ever visited the Ohio State Reformatory? Would you like to visit?