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