Ohio Road Trip

ohio state reformatory

There is one movie that always captures my attention when I’m flipping through the television channels:  “The Shawshank Redemption.”  This is a 1994 film starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins that virtually no one went to see in the theatres, but it has since become a cult classic on television reruns. 

The overarching theme of the film is eternal hope cast against the sorrowful backdrop of prison life.  The main characters are Andy Dufresne, a banker serving a life sentence at the fictional Maine prison called Shawshank  Prison, and his fellow inmate, Red Redding.  Throughout the movie, Dufresne proclaims his innocence and is respected by his fellow inmates for his moral code.  Morgan Freeman narrates the film from the perspective of his character, Red Redding.  The film ends with a daring escape.

After watching parts of the movie at least a dozen times, I finally learned that the “Shawshank Redemption” was actually filmed at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield.  Construction on the historic prison began in 1886 and prisoners were housed there until December 31, 1990.  Over 155,000 men were housed in that prison. 

Last summer, we decided to tour the Ohio State Reformatory on a Sunday afternoon.  The Reformatory is located less than a mile from US 30; just turn left at the Wayne Road exit.  Immediately, you will see the spooky Gothic structure that looks exactly like the Shawshank Prison. 

There are several choices for guided tours on Sunday afternoons throughout the summer months.  For a nominal fee of $9, we took the Hollywood tour.  We saw the Prison Warden’s office from “Shawshank Redemption” including the safe where Andy placed his ledgers, the Parole Board Room, and Andy Dufresne’s escape tunnel.   We even had an opportunity to see the dreaded “hole.”  We also saw the East Cell Block which is the worlds’ largest freestanding steel cell block that stands five stories high; the sheer scale of the cell block was amazing.

I could hear Morgan Freeman’s voice playing in my head throughout the tour: “ I must admit I didn’t think much of Andy first time I laid eyes on him; looked like a stiff breeze would blow him over. That was my first impression of the man.” 

For the mega-Shawshank fans, there is even a self-guided driving tour around the Mansfield area called the Shawshank Trail.  A map is provided to help you drive to the locations where other non-prison movie scenes were filmed.

As a qualifier, I would caution that there is stair climbing involved in the tours and it is not handicapped accessible.  Also, it is not appropriate for small children.

After living in northwest Ohio my entire life, I felt like I had seen most touristy sites within a 90 minute drive so visiting the historic Ohio State Reformatory was a fun surprise.  It is an easy drive and affordable.  I learned a little about the dark side of Ohio history, saw how one of my favorite movies was filmed, and as we drove away, I am almost sure I heard a voice say, “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.”

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