W. E. Sefton: Reformatory Superintendent and Civil War Veteran

William Edgar Sefton was born in Norwalk, Ohio, February 11th, 1841, to Thomas and Jane (nee Weible) Sefton.

It was only shortly after he was born that his parents moved to Ashland county, where Sefton grew up working on the farm and attending the local schools. When he was eighteen, he began working to become a blacksmith, but this pursuit was never to be. His studies were interrupted by the outbreak of the Civil War, and in 1861 he enlisted with the newly formed company G of the Twenty-Third Ohio Infantry Regiment. The Twenty-Third is a well-known unit for many reasons, the first of which is that two soldiers from this regiment would later become United States presidents and a third would become a United States Senator. In fact, William McKinley specifically served in Company G, the same company as Sefton. The other future president who served in the Twenty-Third was Rutherford B. Hayes.

One of the other reasons Sefton’s company is well-known is because of the number of important battles they served in. Sefton personally fought in the following battles: Carnifex Ferry, West Virginia, September 10, 1861; Princeton, West Virginia, May 15, 1862; South Mountain, September 14, 1862; Antietam, September 17, 1862; Cloyd Mountain, May 9, 1864; New River Bridge, May 10, 1864; and Buffalo Gap, June 6, 1864. Sefton was injured at the Battle of Cloyd Mountain in 1864, but continued to serve as a corporal until his term of service expired June 10th, 1864.

After the war, Sefton took up work with the Etna Manufacturing Company, then became a traveling salesman and agent for the C. Aultman Company of Canton for about thirteen years. From there, he worked in several capacities for the Princess Plow Company, eventually becoming the general manager before leaving the company.

It was at this point that Sefton changed his line of work, and 1896 he was elected as the first assistant superintendent of the newly-opened (though still under construction) Ohio State Reformatory, under the supervision of the first Superintendent W. D. Patterson. Even as Assistant Superintendent, his duties were significant, as was apparent in the first two months of his tenure, during which there were multiple escapees from the Reformatory. In October 1896, William Kelly took advantage of a guard’s negligence to escape through a cellar door while he was supposed to be washing windows. The guard failed to report the escape to Deputy Superintendent Sefton immediately, and after this incident Sefton changed the way in which guards patrolled the border and tightened up security.

Less than six months after being elected, Patterson resigned as the Reformatory Superintendent, and Sefton took over the position. He established a prison library of more than 300 volumes, and continued to manage a staff of more than 30 people with 350 inmates in residence at the Reformatory.

Although Sefton’s tenure as superintendent was longer than Patterson’s, it was only three years after taking the position that Sefton resigned, citing ill health. He returned to his home in Mt. Vernon and returned to the apparently less strenuous work of a salesperson, continuing on in this field until he became ill, and died on December 9th, 1918 from complications of the illness.


  • Baughman, A.J. Centennial Biographical History of Richland County.
  • Roster of Ohio Soldiers, War of the Rebellion, Vol. III
  • Butler Enterprise, 22 October 1896, page 1.
  • Mansfield News,  17 December 1900, page 1.
  • “Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953,” database with images, FamilySearch
  • Mansfield News, 10 December 1918, page 4.

The Ohio State Reformatory Opening

The Ohio State Reformatory was a massive project, spanning more than fourteen years in construction alone. The foundation of the Reformatory was begun on 27 August 1886. The cornerstone was laid on 7 November 1886 with pomp including Masonic ceremonies and a brief speech by Ohio’s then-governor J. B. Foraker. The contractor for almost all of the work was Hancock and Dow. The final exterior construction work was not completed until 22 September 1900 [1].

But despite the fact that the construction took fourteen years to be complete, the Reformatory was opened and the first convicts brought in ten years after the cornerstone was laid, on 17 September 1896, while many aspects of the planned construction were uncompleted. For security reasons, the exact schedule of events was not advertised, but still there were large crowds present when the 150 men were brought to the Reformatory from the penitentiary at Columbus by a special train to reside in the west wing of cells [2].

“Ohio State Reformatory Boulevard.” Photo from Mansfield Public Library Collection of the Cleveland Memory Project.

The Managers

The Ohio State Reformatory was in the control of a board of managers, who were intended to be non-partisan, with no more than 3 members to belong to the same political party.

The First Superintendent

The first superintendent of the Ohio State Reformatory was W. D. Patterson. However, his term as superintendent was very short at the Reformatory, and he resigned in February of 1897, less than six months after the Reformatory first received prisoners. Although Patterson resigned, the local news of the day claimed that it was not strictly voluntary and was politically motivated, despite the intention and legal requirement that the Reformatory be nonpartisan. The Shield and Banner claimed that Patterson had been “deposed” by the board of managers in favor of the Deputy Superintendent, W. E. Sefton, who was allegedly more to the liking of the governor at the time, as he was a Republican while Patterson was a Democrat. Other reasons given for the preference of Sefton over Patterson included age, given that Patterson was more than seventy at the time and Sefton was “in the prime of his life and a courteous gentleman.”

Other Staff

The other staff of the Reformatory listed when the first prisoners arrived were a chaplain, a secretary, a farm manager, and 25 guards.

The farm manager was, unsurprisingly, responsible for the cultivation of the Reformatory farm. The architect was responsible for the work on the Reformatory that was as yet uncompleted, and would not be completed for another four years, a year beyond the estimate given when the Reformatory opened, due to delays in the iron and steel work. The chaplain was responsible for holding chapel services, and was also responsible for reading all of the letters written by the prisoners.

Curious? Want to know more?

The Reformatory News was published regularly in the local Richland County newspapers. Want to read it? Come visit the Sherman Room and follow the Reformatory’s history through our microfilm archives! For more info, including hours, see our web page at www.mrcpl.org/shermanroom!


  1. “Last Stone Laid,” Mansfield News, 24 Sep 1900, page 8. Sherman Room Archives.
  2. “Ohio State Reformatory Opening,” Richland Shield and Banner [Mansfield, OH], 19 Sep 1896, page 5. Sherman Room Archives.
  3. “Reformatory News,” Richland Shield and Banner [Mansfield, OH], 9 Feb 1897, page 3. Sherman Room Archives.

Mansfield, Ohio: 1900 Souvenir Letter

In 1907 Mabel C. Miller was unable to find a post card of Mansfield High School to send to a Mr. Frank S. Kenyon in Wauseon, Ohio.  Instead she settled for a booklet of images, which included among other sites, Mansfield High School.  Below are the images included in the booklet and the note written to Frank.  The Booklet was printed sometime between 1900-1910 and gives us an idea of what Mansfield residents were proud of in the early twentieth century.


Early Baseball in Mansfield

Baseball is known as America’s Pastime and Calvin Coolidge called it “our national game.”  While we celebrate opening day this week lets look back at a game that played a vital role in Mansfield history.


A baseball team poses in front of the Mansfield Tire and Rubber Company sometime, according to marginal notes, between 1914 and 1920. Whether the team is a Mansfield Tire supported club or the city’s minor league team, the Tigers, who played at nearby League Park is unclear. The uniforms have “Mansfield” spelled vertically down the center of the jersey from neck to belt. Men in suits and hats stand at either end of the line of ball players. A marginal note identifies the man on the left, wearing a derby and bow tie as Oscar Kalbfleisch, long-time manager of the city water works, who died in 1954.


The Mansfield Merchants semi-pro baseball team poses for a team portrait, probably at Liberty Park. The twelve man squad poses in full uniform.  The listed roster is: J. Heckert, H. Hamilton, Neil, Buzzard, R. Leedy, M. Leedy, W. Lockhart, Dean Hahn, R. Bogantz, A. Baki, L. Smith , W. Martin and Manager H. Hamman


Page from the 1910 Spaldings Official Base Ball Guide.  Mansfield team, posing in uniform. Players are identified by last name.


The Renner-Weber baseball team poses in “League Park,” near the intersection of Newman and Wayne streets. Seven players stand while four sit in the grass in front of them. Bats, ball, glove and catcher’s mask are arranged in the grass in front of the team.


An Ohio State Reformatory team poses for a team portrait in front of a cell block. Thirteen uniformed players, a man wearing a fedora and smoking a cigar and a younger man pose behind an assortment of bats, balls, gloves and catcher’s equipment. It is not clear whether this is an inmate team or guard team. The uniforms bear a stylized “OSR” logo.


Fifteen young men in baseball uniforms pose for a team portrait. Several hold baseball bats or wear fielding mitts. A gothic “D” adorns their caps while the letters “MSTD” are sewn across the front of the jerseys. The Main Street Dutch called Crestline, Ohio home. Front row, Ernie Eckert, Clarence Helfrich, Otto Bauer; middle row, Frank Emmer, Larry Ackerman, George Ginther, George Biggons, Charlie Hipp; top row, William Dice, Albert Gehrich, Harry Foltz, Benny Foltz, James Carlisle, Bert Smith, Harry Pachard. (https://www.mansfieldnewsjournal.com/story/sports/2014/07/16/whats-the-real-story-behind-1909-crestline-baseball-team/12761841/)


“League Park” was located near the intersection of Newman and Wayne Streets, on the Reformatory streetcar line. This view looks west across the park toward the industrial flats on the north end. Aultman Taylor (Ohio Brass) is visible behind the park.  The Mansfield Haymakers and Tigers of the Interstate League played here. Honus Wagner began his Hall of Fame career in this park.


This photo was taken from the grandstands behind home plate at Davey Field. Roof supports and silhouetted heads of other fans fill the foreground of the photo. Only a scattering of fans sit in the open air bleachers along first base line. Beyond the bleachers, West Fourth Street ascends the bluff along the east side of Touby’s Run. Advertisements on the fence try to sell United Woolen Mills suits to the fans-$24, $28 or $32. Beyond the right-center field fence Touby’s Run squeezes between the ballpark and the bluff to the east. On top of the bluff are homes visible along West Fourth and Elmwood.


View from center field of Davey Field looking toward home before a grandstand packed with baseball fans. The view looks toward the west with homes on West Fourth Street to the left, behind the stands running along the first base line. The catcher is throwing the ball back to the pitcher while the batter stands to the left of the plate. A runner on second does not take a lead.

Early Mansfield High School Teams

1908 MHS Baseball

1908 Mansfield High School team from the 1908 Mansfield High School annual.  Notes states “Mr. Blankenhorn is coaching the team and is getting good results from the efforts of the players.”

1919 MHS Baseball2

1919 Mansfield High School team from the 1919 Mansfield High School annual.

1920 MHS BaseBall1

1920 Mansfield High School team from the 1920 Mansfield High School annual.

1920 MHS Baseball

From the 1920 MHS Annual

1923 MHS Baseball

Seventeen members of the 1923 Mansfield Senior High baseball team pose for a team photo in Davey Park.  From the 1923 MHS Annual.