Case Study  ›  No. 7
Mansfield, Ohio


fig. 1 _ Great new and vintage signs along Main Street
fig. 1 _ Great new and vintage signs along Main Street

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Few towns in Ohio are as intriguing as Mansfield where for two centuries patrons of civic art and architecture have embraced with gusto the styles and urban planning movements that were the rage of the day. Many good (and some bad) results of this are seen throughout downtown Mansfield which is a showcase for a variety of architectural styles and planning trends.

Prosperity from a variety of manufacturing interests came to Mansfield in the 19th century city. Nearby were rich beds of coal and iron ore which supplied a burgeoning steel industry. Between 1846 and 1863 four railroad lines converged on Mansfield enabling raw materials to be delivered and finished products to be exported.

Many factors contribute to the delights of Mansfield. It is a hill town overlooking the foothills of the Allegheny Plateau. Surveyed and platted in 1808, the center of the original plan was a large public square. In the mid-20th century this public square was bisected by an extension of Park Avenue thereby making it more attractive for tractor trailers and other fast-moving traffic to barrel through town on what is now known as State Route 430.

The original site for the courthouse was within the public square. In 1872 a new site overlooking the square was chosen for a larger courthouse and the old one was demolished. In 1968 a unique Neo-Italiante courthouse was built to replace the 1872 structure. Overlooking another corner of the square sits the monolithic Municipal Building (1975) a classic Brutalist style building with its own barren plaza in front. Despite their cold appearances both of these major buildings contribute to the overall architectural eclecticism of the city and provide textbook examples of 1970s style.

One other peculiar project was introduced to downtown Mansfield in the late 20th century. A large block of historic structures was demolished for a carrousel to be placed and housed in a building that is totally at odds with its urban setting and looks more like a very large suburban carwash. This appears to be an attempt to draw tourists downtown but it really disrupts what otherwise could have been a pedestrian-friendly Main Street.

Mansfield is a place worthy of a new generation of visionaries to preserve what is great here and to heal some of the problems. A brief walk around downtown Mansfield reveals that there is no lack of new clever and sophisticated entrepreneurship. Lots of vintage signs and historic public sculpture, amazing commercial blocks, warehouses and factories, and significant churches contribute to the rich urban fabric. Beautiful historic houses are within walking distance to Central Park, though overall the housing stock is begging to be restored and urban infill is needed in huge gaps where today a sea of parking lots makes downtown Mansfield an island in an asphalt ocean.

Come to Mansfield on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Walk around the town and sit in Central Park. With very little imagination you can begin to appreciate the huge potential here as well as the richness of what is here already.

 

fig. 2 _ A rich variety of commercial buildings line Main Street
fig. 2 _ A rich variety of commercial buildings line Main Street
fig. 3 _ Magnificent late 19th century architecture is seen throughout downtown
fig. 3 _ Magnificent late 19th century architecture is seen throughout downtown
fig. 4 _ Few cities in the world have such an impressive entrance feature
fig. 4 _ Few cities in the world have such an impressive entrance feature
fig. 5 _ This Modern Classical bank contributes to Mansfield’s architectural variety
fig. 5 _ This Modern Classical bank contributes to Mansfield’s architectural variety
fig. 6 _ Sculpture depicting the early history of Mansfield mounted on the wall of a bank on Park Avenue West
fig. 7 _ Brutalist Municipal Building (1975) and plaza overlooking the public square
fig. 7 _ Brutalist Municipal Building (1975) and plaza overlooking the public square
fig. 8 _ Richland County Courthouse (1968) overlooks the public square
fig. 8 _ Richland County Courthouse (1968) overlooks the public square
fig. 9 _ Carrousel structure in Downton Mansfield
fig. 9 _ Carrousel structure in Downton Mansfield
fig. 10 _ View of Main Street in the 1940s
fig. 10 _ View of Main Street in the 1940s
fig. 11 _ Vintage etching of R.H. McMann residence on West Market St.
fig. 11 _ Vintage etching of R.H. McMann residence on West Market St.

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