Mansfield, Ohio is just over an hour outside of Columbus, which makes it a great daytrip. But with Malabar Farm State Park, the Ohio State Reformatory, Shawshank Trails stops, Kingwood Center Gardens, and lots of other fun attractions, you may want to plan a weekend trip instead!
Our Ohio Travel writer, Deb, randomly picks a new destination in Ohio to visit each month with her husband. Some of their trips are full weekend trips with overnight stays, while others are day trips. Their trips are always full of fun and unique stops that you’re going to want to check out.
Like many, my husband and I are fans of the 1994 hit movie, The Shawshank Redemption. Richland County and the city of Mansfield served as the primary filming location for the movie, so we decided to spend a weekend following the Shawshank Trail and exploring more of Richmond County.
Day 1: Malabar Farm State Park
The first scenes of the movie take place at Malabar Farm State Park, so we began our journey here. Malabar Farm was the home of Mansfield native, Louis Bromfield, a Pulitzer Prize winning author. He purchased the farm and began construction of the “Big House” in 1939.
Bromfield also had a strong Hollywood connection, both personal and professional, which along with the railroad brought many movie stars to Malabar Farm. Two of the most famous visitors were Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who were married at the farm.
Maple Syrup Cabin
There are two cabins located at Malabar Farm State Park, the Pugh and Maple Syrup cabins. We reserved two nights at the Maple Syrup cabin, the only overnight accommodation located outside of the park’s campground. Reservations can be made up to 1 year in advance. (website)
The cabin, built in 1956, is in a secluded setting near the main farm. It sleeps four and offers a gorgeous living area with fireplace and a full kitchen. There is a private 2nd floor bedroom and a pull out sofa on the main floor. The large, covered deck was our favorite place to relax and take in the views surrounding the private pond and fishing dock.
Exploring the Farm
Malabar Farm is a working farm. Visitors can learn about the farm at the family friendly, hands-on visitor center, which also includes a gift shop and restrooms.
Visitors may explore the farm and trails for free. Guided wagon tours of the farm ($3/$2.70), and walking tours of the Big House ($6/$5.40) are also available. Tickets can be purchased at the Visitor Center gift shop. Days & times are limited, so be sure to check the website in advance.
Taking a guided tour is a great way to learn about a new place, so we joined a tour of the Big House. Unlike many historical homes, the Big House contains all original furnishings, photos, and personal items. We learned interesting facts about the history of the farm, the Bromfield family, the career of Louis Bromfield, and the Hollywood stars who often visited.
The home is located a short walk from the visitor center and includes three floors. Those with mobility issues may ask for a ride by golf cart. The main floor is accessible; however, the remaining floors are not. Visitors who cannot navigate the stairs may view photo albums of the family on the main floor while waiting for the tour group.
Hiking the Trails
There are three main hiking trails (1 mile or less), and a 7-mile bridle trail. We hiked on the Butternut Trail, a 1-mile lollipop loop. The trailhead is located near the Pugh Cabin.
Within a few hundred yards, we reached Rock City Cave. Just past the cave, we picked up the loop trail through the forest above. We chose to go in the counterclockwise direction, but either direction is fine. The trail is marked by white blazes (on the trees), but hikers should carry a map for reference.
Malabar Farm Restaurant
Malabar Farm Restaurant is located 1-mile from the park’s main entrance. The renovated 1820s style farmhouse is part of the state park and offers a full menu of French inspired cuisine. My husband ordered the pan fried walleye, and I had the chicken saltimbocca, both of which were very good.
Diners can choose seating in the quaint indoor farmhouse or outside on the large front porch. It was a lovely evening, so we enjoyed the view of the countryside from our patio table. Reservations are recommended.
View from Mt. Jeez
A great place to catch a view of the entire farm is from the top of Mt. Jeez. Located next to Malabar Farm Restaurant, we drove up a gravel road to the top of the hillside where there was ample parking. Park benches welcome visitors to sit and stay for awhile. Visiting at sunset was a perfect way to end the day.
Day 2: Ohio State Reformatory
The Ohio State Reformatory opened in 1896 as a facility for 18–30 year-old offenders, with the goal of reform and rehabilitation. By the time it closed in 1990, it was operating as a maximum-security prison.
After closing the prison doors, the building was slated to be demolished. In 1993, Hollywood was preparing to begin filming The Shawshank Redemption and requested to use the vacant prison, saving it from destruction. Since then, it has become a favorite filming location for both movies and television.
The Shawshank Trail
Visitors to the reformatory have the option of taking a self-guided tour &/or reserving one of several guided tours. Each requires about 90 minutes to complete and include walking long distances and climbing multiple stairs. Audio wands are available for $5 and highly recommended for the self-guided tour.
We made reservations for the Hollywood Meets History tour to learn about the Hollywood connection and more details about the filming of Shawshank. We arrived 90 minutes ahead of our scheduled tour to allow time for the self-guided tour, which is included in the cost of a guided tour. The guided tour bypasses several of the self-guided tour areas, so it’s best to plan for both.
Beyond the Prison
Fifteen movie sites makeup the Shawshank Trail, fourteen of which are located in Ohio. Richland County is home to eleven sites, including the Ohio State Reformatory.
Most of the downtown sites are easily walkable, such as the hotel where Brooks and Red stayed after being released, the bench where Brooks fed the pigeons, and the antique store where Red found the compass to help locate the old oak tree.
When visiting the Food Way market, where Red & Brooks both worked after being released, we purchased a few items for our planned evening meal at our cabin. I just couldn’t resist the urge to remind my husband, “make sure you double bag”.
Some of the most iconic scenes from the movie were filmed in the surrounding county, including Malabar Farm and the Pugh cabin. Others can be found nearby, such as where Red walks the road to Buxton, the site of the old oak tree where Andy buries papers for Red, and the road where Red leaves on the Trailways bus to Texas.
The remaining three sites in Ohio are located in Wyandot and Ashland counties. They each have restricted hours or require an appointment, so advanced planning is key. To learn more about the Shawshank Trail, check out the self-guided driving tour on the website.
The city of Mansfield was founded in 1808. By the mid-1800s, four railroad routes through town paved the way for Mansfield to become a hub of manufacturing and commerce. However, by the 1980s, heavy industry had moved out of the region.
The North Central Ohio Industrial Museum is accessible as part of the Ohio State Reformatory self-guided tour. It recounts the growth of Mansfield as an important part of the industrial movement.
During recent years, Mansfield has benefited from a strong revitalization campaign. The Historic Carousel District downtown boasts many new businesses, shops, and restaurants. We enjoyed exploring the various shops, as we walked between downtown movie sites along the Shawshank Trail.
Richland Carousel Park
Perhaps the cornerstone of the Carousel District is the timeless indoor carousel. It’s a location that brings a smile to your face, both young and old. We couldn’t resist the temptation, so joyfully jumped in line for a ride. Tickets are just $1 each.
Located less than a mile from the Ohio State Reformatory, BibleWalk was opened in 1987. BibleWalk is a life-size wax museum that features more than 100, fully narrated Biblical scenes. There are 7 walk-thru journeys to choose from, each lasting between 30 min to 1 hour. ($5.50/$6.50).
We were able to sneak in a visit after our reformatory tour, so only had time for one journey. We chose the Life of Christ, which included approximately twenty scenes (1 hr). The facility is ADA accessible an offers ample seating throughout each of the journeys.
The Phoenix Brewing Co.
After a busy day, we stopped for a break at the Phoenix Brewing Co. Opened in 2014, in a former mortuary, Phoenix has a cool pub vibe both inside and out. The taproom offers six flagship microbrews, as well as several other local wines and ciders. A lite menu is also available.
Mansfield offers several great downtown dining options. Our favorites are Hudson & Essex, Reindeer Inn, and Uncle John’s Place. For this trip, we chose to grab a delicious mid-day burger at Uncle John’s Place.
We wanted to spend as much time as possible at the Maple Syrup cabin, our overnight accommodation. So, we planned ahead and brought a cooler full of dinner items to cook on the charcoal grill provided. It was an enjoyable evening as we listened to the sound of frogs in the pond .
Day 3: More to Explore
On the return trip to Columbus, we found some fun places to visit on the western edge of Mansfield.
Kingwood Center Gardens
Charles Kelley King worked for Ohio Brass during the electric trolley era, eventually becoming Chairman of the Board. He purchased the 47-acre site as a personal home and garden. After his death in 1952, Kingwood Center Gardens was opened to the public.
A visitor center welcomes guests ($8) with a history of the gardens, a small café, and a gift shop. The gardens are stunning and provide both formal and casual floral displays.
A couple of hours is enough time to meander through the gardens, find a place to sit and relax, and take a self-guided tour of the historic mansion. And don’t be surprised if you see a peacock or two roaming the grounds. They are permanent residents of the garden and quite personable.
The Blueberry Patch
July is prime blueberry season in Ohio, so where better to grab Sunday brunch than The Blueberry Patch? Served from 11am – 3pm, we arrived at 1pm and were quickly seated. The menu offered a nice selection of made to order brunch items and plenty of blueberry delicacies. If it’s available, ask to sit outside on the large covered deck overlooking the blueberry fields.
Afterwards, we stopped to grab a bucket before heading to the blueberry patch. The only thing standing between us and a homemade blueberry cobbler, was a short walk across the parking lot. For those who don’t want to pick their own berries, pre-picked options are also available.
Ohio Bird Sanctuary
Bird lovers and families will enjoy the Ohio Bird Sanctuary, ($5/$3) a rehabilitation center for Ohio native birds and raptors. There are a few short birding trails available to those who wish to explore on their own. However, we enjoyed getting up close to the beautiful birds in the Songbird Aviary.
That’s a Wrap!
This month’s trip was longer than most, although we fit in a lot of great adventures. Richland County has so much to offer anyone looking for a place to escape for a day or two…or even three!
Check here for more family fun ideas in Mansfield.
Looking for more travel?
Check out more family-friendly options for around Mansfield from a visit to nearby Comfort Inn Splash Harbor.
- Exploring Kelleys Island
- New Richmond to Ripley via Ohio River Scenic Byway
- Fun things to do in Lancaster and Fairfield County
- Town Center, Fun Finds, and more in Columbiana, Ohio