History of Mansfield - A Historic Ohio Town
Early Origins and Founding
The city of Mansfield traces its roots back to its establishment in June 1808 as a settlement by James Hedges, Joseph Larwell, and Jacob Newman. They meticulously laid out and platted the town, inspired by the vision of Colonel Jared Mansfield, the esteemed United States Surveyor General who oversaw its planning. Initially, Mansfield took shape as a square, known today as the public square or Central Park. Notably, in the same year of its founding, Samuel Martin constructed a log cabin on lot 97 (now the location of the H.L. Reed building), becoming the inaugural and solitary dwelling in Mansfield during 1808. Martin resided in the cabin during the winter months, albeit engaging in the illicit sale of whiskey to Native Americans, leading to his subsequent flight from the country. In 1809, James Cunningham became the cabin's new occupant.
At that time, Richland County boasted fewer than a dozen settlers, and the state of Ohio remained largely untouched wilderness. To safeguard against potential threats during the War of 1812, two blockhouses were swiftly erected on the public square, serving as fortifications against colonial and Native American allies. These blockhouses materialized overnight. Following the conclusion of the war, Richland County's first courthouse and jail were housed within one of the blockhouses until 1816. Eventually, the blockhouse transformed into a school, with Eliza Wolf taking on the role of teacher.
Growth and Progression
Mansfield officially gained incorporation as a village in 1828 and later achieved city status in 1857, with a population of 5,121 residents. The advent of railroads between 1846 and 1863 ushered in a new era for the city. The Sandusky, Mansfield and Newark Railroad became the first to reach Mansfield in 1846, followed by the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railway in 1849 and the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad in 1863. As the rail lines expanded, Mansfield emerged as a prominent center for manufacturing and trade during the late 1880s.
The city's strategic location along four major railroad routes propelled its industrial prowess. Numerous manufacturing enterprises flourished within Mansfield, producing a diverse range of goods, including brass items, doors, linseed oil, paper boxes, suspenders, and various other products. In 1888, Hautzenroeder & Company, a cigar manufacturer, held the distinction of being Mansfield's largest employer, with a workforce of 285 individuals. That same year, Frank B. Black embarked on his entrepreneurial journey, establishing the Ohio Brass Company with a $5,000 loan from relatives. This brass foundry specialized in crafting brass and bronze castings, stem brass goods, electric railway supplies, and more. By 1890, Mansfield's population had surged to 13,473 inhabitants.
20th and 21st Century Developments
In 1908, as Mansfield celebrated its centennial, the blockhouse became an enduring symbol of the city's heritage. The year 1929 witnessed the relocation of the blockhouse to its current site in South Park.
Mansfield played a significant role in the tire industry with the founding of the Mansfield Tire and Rubber Company in 1912, which manufactured automobile tires. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the Mansfield tire brand stood alongside renowned names such as Goodyear, Goodrich, Firestone, and Uniroyal as one of the "Big Four" tire manufacturers. The Mansfield Tire and Rubber Company experienced growth throughout the 1950s and 1960s before encountering decline in the 1970s. The company eventually filed for bankruptcy in the early 1980s, ultimately ceasing operations in 1979 and leaving 1,721 employees jobless.
In 1913, Mansfield faced significant flooding during the Great Flood of 1913, which brought substantial rainfall of 3 to 8 inches (76 to 203 mm) across Ohio between March 24 and 25. The arrival of the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental road in the United States, in 1913 fostered economic expansion in Mansfield. Noteworthy in 1924, Oak Hill Cottage, an exquisite Gothic Revival brick house constructed in 1847 by John Robinson, superintendent of the Sandusky, Mansfield and Newark Railroad, served as the setting for "The Green Bay Tree," the debut novel by Mansfield native Louis Bromfield.
In 1927, the impressive nine-story Leland Hotel was erected downtown on the southwest corner of Park Avenue West and South Walnut Street at a cost of $556,000. Upon completion, it became Mansfield's tallest building. Architect Vernon Redding, responsible for designing notable structures such as the Mansfield Public Library, Farmers Bank Building, Mansfield Savings Bank Building, and Mansfield General Hospital, lent his expertise to the Leland Hotel. However, the hotel was demolished in 1976 to create space for a parking lot. The sole remaining remnant of the Leland Hotel is the compass rose, embedded in the Walnut Street sidewalk, marking the original location of the hotel's entrance.
Like many cities in the Rust Belt, Mansfield experienced urban decay and the loss of significant blue-collar manufacturing jobs during the 1970s and 1980s. However, recent years have witnessed a revitalization of Mansfield's downtown area, once emblematic of economic hardships. Main Street Mansfield, now known as Downtown Mansfield, Inc., has played a pivotal role in spearheading innovative revitalization efforts and fostering new business growth. In 1993, Lydia Reid made history by becoming Mansfield's first female mayor, serving three four-year terms and becoming the city's longest-serving mayor. Reid's tenure ended in 2007, succeeded by Donald Culliver, the city's first African-American mayor.
In December 2009, Mansfield faced fiscal challenges and was placed under fiscal watch by the state auditor due to substantial deficits in its general funds. Subsequently, on August 19, 2010, Mansfield earned the distinction of being Ohio's largest city to declare fiscal emergency, burdened by a $3.8 million deficit resulting from a failure to implement cost-saving measures and reduce spending, largely attributed to the impact of the Great Recession. The city remained in a state of financial emergency for nearly four years until finally emerging from it on July 9, 2014.