Mansfield, Ohio: Literary and Conservation Mecca

Mansfield, Ohio doesn’t immediately rise to the top of a list of literary meccas, but, rather surprisingly, it has two notable entries. The first is Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and the Sprisonhawshank Redemption, which is set in Maine but filmed at the Ohio State Reformatory. The popular film starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman is represented in 14 Hollywood filming sites along The Shawshank Trail, a drive-it-yourself tour.

Most notable on the trail is the historic prison, a reformatorywardendining for boys housing 1900 inmates, built in the early 20th century. A sign above a classroom door reads “Ohio’s University of Second Chances.” While the Warden’s Dining Room is decorated splendidly, the bone-chilling cellblocks are not so inviting.

leslie-redTourists can have their photos snapped with life-size cardboard cut-outs of the actors or sit at the warden’s desk where he would have seen the cars coming up the lane to arrest him for financial fraud.

Malabar Farm, south of Mansfield, provided sites for the film, too, including its rustic Pugh Cabin, where the film opens with Andy (Tim Robbins) sitting in his car contemplating his wife’s betrayal. The famous oak tree along Pleasant Valley Road where Red (Morgan Freeman) looks for the treasure that Andy left him is rather crumpled after a storm in 2011. The farm itself is home to the second notable literary connection in Mansfield: Louis Bromfield. Winner of the 1926 Pulitzer Prize for his novel Early Autumn, Bromfield was a prolific author of more than 30 books, both fiction and nonfiction. He lived in France between the wars, authoring The Farm (1933), a multi-generational story of an Ohio farm that called to mind fond memories of his own childhood. Returning to Ohio to avoid the coming war, he purchased several farms to combine them into Malabar, a name derived from his travels in India. With funds from his best-selling novels and the films made from them, he termed his buildings “the MGM cattle barn” and “Twentieth-Century Fox sheep barn” as he wrote in his 1943 memoir Pleasant Valley. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall spent their honeymoon at Malabar.

While Bromfield’s novels are not well known now, his influence as a conservationist and farmer is still felt. With the Depression and its devastating Dust Bowl still disturbingly close, Bromfield took worn out farms and began implementing French agricultural practices. Following in Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy, Bromfield writes that “A good farmer must be many things—a horticulturist, a mechanic, a botanist, an ecologist, a veterinary . . . but knowledge alone is not enough. There must be too that feel of all with which Nature concerns herself” (148). This short video provides an overview of Bromfield, the farm, and sustainable practices.

To find Bromfield’s books and other area authors, visit the excellent Main Street Books: “Real Books, Real Readers, Real Local.” Nearby is the bench where Brooks, a released inmate from Shawshank Prison fed the birds. And after that, hop on the historic Carousel to grab the brass ring in downtown Mansfield, a town that exceeds expectations.

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