By Dave Zuchowski with photos and video by Bill Rockwell
Pleasant surprises often turn up in some of the most unexpected places. Mansfield, Ohio, is one of these.
While on a visit to explore the Ohio State Reformatory, where the movie “Shawshank Redemption” was filmed, I stumbled across a slew of other attractions. These turned my original plan to spend a day or two in the pleasant mid-Ohio town into a multi-day experience. While many don’t have quite the impact of the infamous penitentiary, there’s plenty to make any Mansfield visit an even richer one.
A Manse Surrounded by Horticultural Beauty
If you have an interest in exploring public gardens, Kingwood Center, a 47-acre tract of horticultural beauty, is centered by Kingwood Mansion, the former home of industrialist Charles Kelly King.
Before I toured the mansion in early April, daffodils, tulips and crocuses along with flowering trees made my walk of the grounds a serene one. Along the way, I spotted fountains, a duck pond, live peacocks and a majestic allee of trees. Further on, the cacti and succulent house and the Storybook Trail added to the enjoyment of the peony, rose, day lily and other gardens.
For children and the young at heart, the 500-foot long woodland nature trail, which features a different book in each nook, includes pages from a children’s book with a nature or garden theme. These can be read as you stroll along the path.
The center’s $5 admissions fee includes entry into the 1926 mansion, still intact with most of its original décor. Guided tours of the hall and gardens are also available.. Phone 419-552-0211. Kingwoodcenter.org.
Give Me That Old Time Religion
Brush up on your Biblical knowledge with a stop at the Bible Walk, Ohio’s only wax museum. Located at 500 Tingley Avenue, next to the non-denominational Diamond Hill Cathedral, the sprawling museum displays six different walking tours that pass by 100 different scenes with 325 wax figures, many of them obtained from other museums that were closing.
The scenes are brought to life with added painted wall murals and related artifacts
as well as music, narration and special effects. Limited by time constraints, I managed
to view the Miracles of the Old Testament tour as well as a look at the Walk of the
Parables. Director Julie Hardin said the average visitor can spend as much as 5 hours
if they’d like to experience the entire museum.
More to come this fall is the world’s largest collection of wooden carvings by a single individual. It took woodcarver Joseph Barta 30 years to finish 100 life size figures from the Bible and four years to complete his rendition of the “Last Supper.” This one of a kind collection also showcases over 400 miniatures of animals, including some ferocious lions.
Starting June 12, the museum will offer a luncheon theater presentation titled “The Sower and the Shepherd.” The museum is also accessible to bus tours. For more information phone 419-524-0139 or www.biblewalk.us.
A Patch of Blue
Forty years ago, Steve and Lisa Beilstein started growing about 1,500 blueberry plants on their property just on the outskirts of Mansfield. Since then, their enterprise has grown exponentially to become the largest blueberry farm in Ohio. Today, 27,000 blueberry plants in 20 plus varieties sprawl over acres of farmland. Not only do they supply locals with fresh and frozen berries year-round, they also serve pick-your-own opportunities, usually from the end of June through mid-August.
Visitors can enjoy lunch in the Blossom Café (the offerings include all sorts of blueberry treats from muffins and scones to cobblers and pies), then stroll through a huge gift emporium and visit the 1285 Winery, the brainchild of 2 of the Beilstein 4 sons.
Newly constructed building housing the Blueberry Patch.
While the current buildings designed by Steve, an architect by trade, are charming and inviting and built with timber harvested right on the property, a much larger building is nearly finished that will house all the elements of the business including the Beanery, where estate-grown Arabica coffee is hand-roasted. A soft opening of the new facility is scheduled for mid-May. Phone 419-884-1797 or theblueberrypatch.org.
For a Taste of the Arts
I was mildly shocked when I pulled into the parking lot of the Mansfield Art Center. This stunning building is something you’d expect to see in a much larger city. No wonder it’s on the list of 100 of the most architecturally significant buildings in Ohio.
Over 60,000 visitors come each year to see the seven major exhibits of regional, Ohio and national artists each year. While the Center doesn’t have a permanent collection, it spotlights the work of artists juried into the exhibits shown in one of three galleries.
All the exhibit scheduling is available on website mansfieldartcenter.org, but two that struck my personal fancy are The Annual May Show (May 9 – June 6) and “Ohio Designer Craftsmen: The Best of 2020-2021 (August 15 – September 12).
Admission to the Center is free and includes entry to the weekend glassblowing demonstrations in the newly built educational wing. One day to six week long classes and workshops (including online) are available by pre-registering at 419-756-1700.
More Places of Interest
A refreshing way to recharge your batteries is to hike around the Gorman Nature Center, 2195 Lexington Ave. in Mansfield. The Center boasts 150 acres of woods, prairies, ponds, streams, even a old covered bridge to go along with five miles of accessible trails.
Downtown, Richland Carrousel Park is on the intersection of two main streets. For the small fee of $1, visitors can ride one of 52 carved animals accompanied by all the traditional bells and whistles, music and lights. Under a protective roof, the carrousel opened in 1991 as the first to be built and operated in the nation since 1931.
75 N. Main St. Mansfield. Phone 419-522-4223 or Richlandcarrousel.com.
Electro, the world’s first robot. Built in Mansfield by Westinghouse.Housed in the 1887 Soldier’s and Sailor’s Building at 34 Park Ave., the Mansfield Memorial Museum has an eclectic collection of items, including some quirky ones like Electro, the world’s first robot. Built in Mansfield by Westinghouse for the 1939 World‘s Fair in New York, Electro was able to walk and talk and is still operational.
Phone 419-525-2491 or themansfieldmuseum.com.
For more information on Mansfield, phone 800-642-8282 or destinaionmansfield.com.
For a Place to Stay, TownePlace Suites, 1125 Guest Court in Mansfield. 419-747-0400. When making a reservation, mention your plan to visit the reformatory for a 10% discount.
For a Place to Dine, Black Dog Tavern, 900 Comfort Plaza Dr. in Belleville, is housed in the Deer Ridge Golf Club. Casual inside dining or outside on the deck. 419-886-7090.