Rolling Along at the Coliseum

Tired of the bleak winter weather? Roll along with us through a few images of the old Coliseum.

The structure type of the American “coliseum” is based on the architecture of the Roman amphitheaters, most notably the Colosseum in Rome, and shared its entertainment purpose. Whereas the Colosseum was used for animal hunts and other displays of strength, the American coliseum was more usually a venue for dancing or expositions of a more peaceful nature.

The Mansfield Coliseum was built in 1921 by local Rupert Cox at Luna Park (now North Lake Park) after the original roller coaster at the park was taken down to make room for the large structure. The building was the home to many a fun event for the community, from the regular availability of the roller skating rink to fashion shows, cooking expositions, and even car shows!

The first Coliseum burned in 1967, and was rebuilt, this time with a second story with a meeting room, and continued to be the home for competitive and casual roller skating in Mansfield until 2005, when the new structure also suffered a fire. The building was demolished in 2006.

Compare the structures of Luna Park in 1914 (left) and 1921 (right). Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Library of Congress Map Division.

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Mansfield’s Summer Amusement: Luna-Casino Park

Summer has officially begun!

Today many people flock to large amusement parks like Cedar Point and Kings Island for summer break fun, but in the history of Mansfield that distinctive roller coaster thrill could be found much closer to home at Luna-Casino Park, on what had been the Sherman-Heineman Park and what is now North Lake Park. The following are postcards depicting various aspects of this park from the Sherman Room Digital Archive postcard collection.

In 1899, the Mansfield News published an article reflecting on the “Growth of Mansfield,” in which it was noted that Mansfield had two well-kept parks, Central Park and Sherman-Heineman Park. At the time, Sherman-Heineman Park consisted of 80 acres with 25 acres being forest, and it boasted nice walkways and artificial lakes. With these amenities, it was a popular spot for picnics and other outdoor social gatherings [Mansfield News, 05 Feb 1899, pg. 9].

By 1905, when the roller coaster began operation, the Sherman-Heineman park had gained an additional two names, Casino Park and Luna Park, as well as a number of new attractions. Now in addition to the water and the walkways, the parks boasted a dancing pavilion, a “figure eight” roller coaster, a shooting gallery, the Casino theater (complete with a fresh coat of paint), a merry-go-round, and a swimming pool [Mansfield Daily Shield, 08 May 1905].

The roller coaster opened in 1905, just in time for a debate around Blue Laws, or laws restricting activities that can be done on Sunday (a common Blue Law was a prohibition against selling or purchasing alcohol on Sunday). A group of four local reverends petitioned Mayor Huntington Brown to ensure that many of the amusements at Luna Park would be kept shut on Sundays, specifically including the shooting ranges and the merry-go-round. Even though the roller coaster was not yet operational, the group also stated that they wanted the roller coaster to be prohibited on Sundays as well [Mansfield Daily Shield, 27 Jun 1907, pg. 6].

However, the owner of the “amusements” at issue, G. W. Bahl determined that the summer fun would indeed continue on Sunday, despite anticipating that at least one arrest might result, as the local group had threatened. And it appeared that the summer fun won out, because on Monday it was reported that all the amusements had been open and well-attended on Sunday, and no arrests had been made.

The Historic Blockhouse

A. A. Graham states in his History of Richland County that blockhouses “sprang up, like mushrooms, almost in a single night” as pioneers felt the need to protect themselves from local Indians when war was declared with Great Britain in the spring of 1812. Two blockhouses were constructed on the square here in Mansfield. One blockhouse was created by a company of men under the direction of Capt. Williams of Coshocton and another by Capt. Shaffer of Fairfield County.  Shaffer’s stood nearly in the center of the west side of the square and was made of round logs.  Williams’s blockhouse, near the center of the north side of the square, was made of hewed logs.  These were manned with troops until the American victory at the Battle of the Thames, also known as the Battle of Moraviantown.

After the war, William’s blockhouse was used as the Courthouse and jail for about three years.  On July 9, 1816 Jacob Snider and Lewis Lyberger were the lowest bidders for the construction of the new courthouse at $1,900 and on December 3, 1816 the two blockhouses were sold at auction.  Capt. Williams’s was sold to Alexander Curran for $56.40 and Capt. Shaffer’s to Jacob Snider for $20.  Rev. James Rowland describes the old court house when he came to Mansfield in 1820, saying that the “lower story was constructed of hewed logs that had been originally used in another part of town for a block-house.”  While there is no mention to it anywhere else, Shaffer’s blockhouse may have been used in the construction of the first floor of the original courthouse.

Curran had Capt. William’s blockhouse dismantled and moved to his property at 168 East Second St.  It is believed he used the bottom half of the blockhouse as a pig pen and the top as a chicken coup.  In later years, Curran tried to protect the historic structure by covering it with sheeting.  Later, General James Hedges bought the property from Curran, including the blockhouse, and further tried to preserve the structure.  Hedges later sold the lot to John Carson, who continued preservation efforts.

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In 1906, there was once again interest in the blockhouse when the city began preparation for its 100th anniversary in 1908.  The structure was purchased by the Mansfield Centennial Commission from its current owner, Peter Doerman, for $125.  It would be moved next to the court house and the corner stone would be laid September 17, 1907.  Rotted and termite eaten timbers were replaced with logs taken from the cabin of pioneer Capt. James Cunningham.  On June 11, 1908, the city of Mansfield celebrated its centennial.  During the celebration, Gen. Brinkerhoff spoke of the history of the city and his hope for its future generations.

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Following the celebration, the blockhouse was moved to and rebuilt in South Park where it was used for storage until 1929 when it became the home of the Boy Scout of America Troop Number 6.  In 1938, a fire damaged the first floor of the blockhouse.  Investigators determined it was most likely caused by a cigarette or match being dropped through a broken window.  $300 was received through insurance to repair the damage.  In 1979, the structure was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Today the blockhouse remains one of the most recognizable landmarks in Mansfield.

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The Blockhouse in 1979

Vasbinder Fountain

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The dedication of the Vasbinder Fountain should have been a joyous occasion.  Siblings, David and Jane Vasbinder, gave the fountain to the city and in the speech given by Henry Hedges, he thanked them for sharing their good fortune with the people of Mansfield.  Col. B. Burns accepted the fountain on behalf of the city saying: “This beautiful fountain, now complete in all its parts, has been  delivered into the care and custody of the city by the generous donors, and what more appropriate gift could these worthy citizens have donated to our people? And who, of all those  who may look upon it through the years to come, as the pure, cool, re­freshing water is distilled  through it in jets and sprays, will not feel a com­mendable pride in speaking of the generous donors.” Unfortunately a darkness hung over the proceedings because on July 2, 1881 at 9:30 am, President James A. Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau.  Garfield died on September 19, 1881 as a result of the injuries sustained in the assassination attempt.

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Vasbinder Fountain and the Band Stand in Central Park.

On December 17, 1958, the fountain was removed when the controversial cut-through was added to central park.  The fountain was briefly on the farm of J.V. Pugh near Lucas before it was moved to Malabar Farm.  The monument was returned to Central Park in November of 1978 and water once again flowed through the fountain in June of 1979.  It was dedicated on July 4, 1979.  The fountain has had renovations and repairs in the 50 years since it has been returned to Central Park, including a $9,000 makeover in 2007.  The fountain was rededicated on July 30, 2007.

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Vasbinder Fountain at Malabar Farm

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Vasbinder Fountain today