TOURISM HISTORY HIGHLIGHT
Mansfield Attractions Full of History
By Jeanna Sadowski, CVB Intern
I’ve lived in Mansfield all of my life. I spent my childhood exploring the gardens and feeding the ducks of Kingwood Center, watching plays at The Renaissance Theatre and staring in awe at the historic Bissman Building. But now, I’m an intern at the Mansfield/Richland County Convention and Visitors Bureau. I’ve learned so much about my hometown and all that it offers since I started my internship and it only enhances my childhood experiences. Seeing these local attractions through the eyes of visitors who travel great distances to explore these sites made me want to know more about their history.
Kingwood Center Gardens was originally the home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kelley King. King made his fortune in Mansfield working for Ohio Brass where he eventually became President. Shortly after his death, Kingwood Center was opened to the public in 1953 as a horticultural education center. The mansion was built in 1926, when Mansfield was the center of life in Ohio, by Clarence Mack a Cleveland Architect while the gardens were designed and built by Pitkin and Mott, an architecture firm also from Cleveland. Did you know that the gardens were built around the Kings’ swimming pool? Or that the original turf around the pool was mint plants? Kingwood has a deep history here in Mansfield, 90 years, and provides educational programs on gardening topics, offers a library that’s open to members and researchers (with appointment), and holds events during Halloween and Christmas that engages the community. As for the future, there are plans underway to take Kingwood to the next level, including a new visitor center.
About the same time that Kingwood was being built and the gardens were being dug, The Renaissance Theatre was beginning to be built. It was originally named “The Ohio” because it was the biggest movie house in North Central Ohio. Building of The Ohio began in 1927 and the project would cost $500,000 (about $7 billion today) and on opening day (January 19, 1928) people came to the theatre, despite the blizzard-like conditions, to see Get Your Man starring Clara Bow. The Ohio would continue to hold a special part of life in Mansfield until the 70s. With the theatre maintenance in disarray and the theatre showing X-rated movies by 1979, community outcry caused the theatre to go dark. The Ohio was abandoned, almost forgotten until The Miss Ohio Scholarship Pageant rented the theatre to broadcast the show, sparking community interest in restoring the movie house to its former glory. The Ohio then became known as The Renaissance, thanks to the love and care of Fran and Warren Rupp. Thanks to everyone’s efforts, I have memories of sitting in the red velvet chairs watching The Nutcracker with my classmates or watching The Wizard of Oz like they did when The Renaissance first opened as The Ohio Theatre.
But, before The Renaissance and Kingwood Center were established here in Mansfield, there was the Bissman Building. The Bissman Building was built in 1886 and was a wholesale grocery warehouse. Today, it still stands and is owned by the seventh generation of Bissmans and is open for daytime tours or paranormal investigations. Mansfield was a booming town in 1886 and Peter Bissman had a dream and with that dream he became Mansfield’s wholesale grocery, tobacco, and alcohol distributing tycoon. The Bissman warehouse was originally located where the Richland Carrousel Park is today but Peter wanted to move where there was easy railroad and trolley access in the “flats” of Mansfield. The building was constructed by a local firm, Hancock and Dow, who were also contracted to build The Ohio State Reformatory. The building itself is stunning and has been used in multiple films including The Shawshank Redemption as The Portland Daily Bugle Office and The Brewer Hotel.
There are so many interesting things about Mansfield that I never knew. The history of each area attraction is something to be discovered and treasured. History buffs could explore this town all summer! There’s more than what meets the eye at each of these amazing places and it took my internship to highlight some amazing local history.
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