The grand Lazarus department store at the Richland Mall in Ontario, Ohio, sits empty. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)
ONTARIO, Ohio — As I was driving on the Lincoln Highway on my way out of the Mansfield area, I came across a gigantic structure with a towering central section capped by a hat-like roof. It was surrounded by a completely empty sea of parking. There were no signs of life, but it had all the hallmarks of a shopping mall department store.
This is the Richland Mall, or at least the former Lazarus, the now-defunct Columbus-based department store chain that opened a branch here in 1958. It’s a bold design, something you can tell was meant to impressive drivers heading by on the Lincoln Highway, known locally as W. 4th Street. It caught my eye, so I pulled into the parking lot.
Does this look familiar? (Photo by Michael E. Grass)
MANSFIELD, Ohio — For fans of the “Shawshank Redemption,” the camera angle you see here will likely be familiar. This is the desk of the corrupt prison warden, Samuel Norton, and something big happens here toward the end of the 1994 film — I don’t want to spoil the plot for those who haven’t seen it — and a bunch of police cars come streaming up the prison’s front approach seen in the background.
The film, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman and inspired by a Steven King novella titled “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” tells the story of the fictional Shawshank State Prison in Maine. But the Ohio State Reformatory, decommissioned as a prison in 1990 after 94 years in service, was used for filming and today is a local tourist attraction administered by the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society. If you’re in the area, it’s a worthwhile stop.
While the reformatory isn’t located directly off the Lincoln Highway, which runs through the center of Mansfield, it is convenient to the modern routing of U.S. 30, which runs as a bypass north of town. The prison is an amazing place to explore, including the world’s largest free-standing steel cellblock, parts of which you get to walk through. You can also go into solitary confinement, the shower rooms, hospital and administrative wings. The audio tour warns not to shut any prison cell doors as the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society doesn’t have any keys to reopen them.