Last week we looked at the Feast of Ceres in Mansfield, the grand celebration of the fall harvest and Mansfield’s abundant industry. One other notable aspect of this celebration was actually a part of the Mansfield streetscape for many years: Mansfield’s lighted arches on Main Street.
City lighting has been of concern in urban development for a long time. In 1861, the Semi-Weekly News reported that the Mansfield City Council “in severe economical fit have ordered that the streets hereafter should not be lighted up.” The News apparently disagreed with this decision, calling it “rather doubtful” economic policy, since the cost for taxpayers was only “20 cents on a thousand dollars valuation [Mansfield News, 05 June 1861, page 3].
But right around 1907, when the city of Mansfield was making plans to advertise their industries with the Feast of Ceres, a new plan was forming to create a “bigger, better, and more progressive Mansfield.” One portion of this plan was to add lights to the downtown area. At a Mansfield City Council meeting in May of 1907, local businessman filled the meeting room to support the idea of adding new electric lights downtown, and by the end of the meeting a plan was in place for new lighted arches in downtown, the construction cost of which was not to exceed $5,000. In total, the arches would include 740 electric lights that were to be run for five hours each night. At the time it was estimated that the lighting would cost $2,186.35 per year, and by comparison the previous light system of 12 arc lights cost $720 per year [Mansfield Daily Shield, 15 May 1907, page 1].
There will be an arch at the Park Avenue West side of the park which will contain 50 electric lights. The arch at the Park Avenue East side of the park will contain 50 lights.
There will be an arch at each corner of the square and each arch will contain 40 lights. There will be arches to the number of eight, at the different walks leading into the park, containing 15 lights. There will be eight posts around the fountain, each containing five lights…There will be eight arches down Main street as far as the Erie track. Each arch will contain 40 lights… Although it has not been definitely decided the eight electric arches to be placed on North Main street will likely to be erected at the following locations: Third, Fourth, near post office, Fifth, half way between Fifth and Sixth, Sixth, half way between Sixth and Olive and at Olive.Mansfield Daily Shield, 15 May 1907, page 1
After construction was started, it turned out that there were remaining funds, so the Council decided to spend it adding extra arches on Fourth Street, at the corner of West Fourth and Walnut and one at the corner of East Fourth and Diamond Street.
The grand opening of the lighted arches was at the Feast of Ceres, at the end of October, and the arches are visible in the pictures from the parade at the event.
But even early on, the arches proved challenging. Within two months, one of the arches was found to be broken in the middle and was swinging in the breeze, causing some worry that it might fall on a vehicle or pedestrian [Mansfield Daily Shield, 20 November 1907, page 2]. No injury was reported, so it appears that the arch was able to be repaired before it came down entirely, but even so there continued to be issues. By February of 1908, just four months after the arches had been installed, the Public Service Board decided to shorten the time the arches would be lit down to two hours per night, except for Saturday nights when they would be lit until ten, due to a bill of $219 for one month of the arch’s illumination in January 1908 [Mansfield Daily Shield, 12 February 1908, page 1].
Despite the challenges, the arches were still appreciated. It was a source of pride in Mansfield that the mayor of Dunkirk, New York, came to Mansfield specifically to view the arches with an eye toward developing a similar system of lighting in his city [Mansfield Daily Shield, 08 June 1908, page 2].
And in 1908, the arches proved to be a point of festive pride! Despite the decorations arriving late, and not being able to be put out until December 17th, the arches were festooned in holiday greenery that was to be left up until after the holidays [Mansfield Daily Shield, 17 December 1908, page 2].
But it was not long before the cost of the arches was deemed too high, and more efficient methods of lighting were sought. In 1914, plans were made for a new system of lighting the downtown to be known as the “White Way” and designed by H. Wilford Jones, an engineer from Cleveland [Mansfield Daily Shield, 18 February 1914, page 2]. The new system would eliminate the arches, and use “Nitrogen Tungsten Lamps,” which are more recently known as incandescent lights. The planning of the new light system apparently took some time, and the system was not installed until 1915.
In 1915, a large portion of the labor was in fact taking down the old arch lights, which at the time consisted of seventeen large arches and 8 small arches, and a contract was award to Lyman Ostrander for $250 to remove them in September of 1915 [Mansfield News, 24 September 1915, page 10]. The arches were taken down, and on 25 November 1915 the “White Way” was turned on for the first time and pedestrians “saw the Mansfield streets lit up as they have never been lit up before,” with light “from Second street to Fifth street on Main and Fourth streets, on Park avenue west from Central park to Mulberry street, on the four streets facing Central park and along all the walks in Central park” with the light posts “placed at a distance of about 53 feet apart along both sides of the street” [Mansfield Daily Shield, 26 November 1915, page 5].
Although the arches only lasted for 8 years, they were an iconic feature of Mansfield during their tenure. And they can be useful for getting an approximate date of some photos of Mansfield; if a photo has the arches represented, they must have been taken between November 1907 and November 1915.
Want to see more historic photos of Mansfield? Check out the Sherman Room digital archives and the Cleveland Memory Project on the Sherman Room webpage at http://www.mrcpl.org/shermanroom, and as always, drop in to the Sherman Room or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!