EDITOR'S NOTE: This piece was previously published at Richland Source in 2013.
MANSFIELD -- During the summer of 1913, the Sunshine Club went on a series of Trolley Picnics in Mansfield. It only cost a nickel, and the streetcars went west of town to the city parks, or north of town to the picnic grounds at the Ohio State Reformatory.
In 1913, there were five cinemas in town that showed moving pictures where you might spend your nickel. But, as amusing as that may have been, none of those theaters had anything like air conditioning. So it wasn’t too pleasant on a summer afternoon.
The streetcars, on the other hand, were actually moving. With their big open sides, it was like sitting in a cool breeze.
The Park Avenue line went to the gates of South Park at Brinkerhoff Avenue. The Club was able to wander leisurely all day — from Maple Lake at the southern end, through South Park and Middle Park to North Lake Park, where it could catch the Casino trolley up Fourth Street back into town.
PART 3: Trolley Picnics
The first Trolley Picnic for the Sunshine Club was to the Ohio State Reformatory. Club members spread quilts on the grass to eat lunch under the walls of Mansfield’s castle.
The Reformatory streetcar line ran out past Wayne Street to OSR because the warden encouraged tourism by planting garden beds around the grounds.
There was a unique rock garden next to the pond, and a rowboat if anyone wanted to take a tour by water.
The penal philosophy of the Reformatory revolved around giving the boys inside a sense of cultural responsibility. So the regular maintenance of many scenic flowerbeds was a natural service to provide for the community of picnic folks.
When the Sunshine Club went boating there in 1913, Maple Lake was the newest of Mansfield’s city parks. The little glen was dammed up in 1905 and took a few years to fully mature into a healthy body of water.
The lake was deep enough to have a diving board for a few years, but after a couple decades, the waterbed was silting in and the shallow end became a marshy haven for an impressive colony of bullfrogs, who nightly sang in massed chorus.
As neighborhoods of homes filled in around the lake, the human population came to outnumber the bullfrog population, and the peoples’ chorus was unanimously in favor of eliminating the noise.
The lake was drained in 1951, and serves today as a sports field.
The land originally belonged to Senator John Sherman, but it wasn’t suitable for farming because of the ravines. So in 1888 he donated it to the city to become the first recreational park.
In 1913, there was a rustic pavilion there, and walking paths through the woods with landscaped stone stairways and a tall wooden hiking bridge. People came to see the historic Blockhouse that stood next to the park roadway, but mostly they came to picnic on the lawn and toss horseshoes.
The most picturesque of the west-end parks, Middle Park was often used as a setting for outdoor photos. The stream running through a channeled sandstone bed with little waterfalls shows up in many local photo albums from the 1890s-1910s.
The other attractions in Middle Park were a memorial to Johnny Appleseed in an ornamental wrought iron fence, and an octagonal gazebo perched atop a scenic knoll. Both of these objects have been moved to South Park in more recent decades.
North Lake Park
In 1888, when John Sherman donated the land for South Park, the lands for North Lake Park were given by Abram Heineman — so the site was known for several generations as Sherman-Heineman Park.
During the summer of 1913, there were a series of three small lakes in the park, but when the Sunshine Club arrived only one of them was available for boating because the other two had filled up with gravel during the massive flood earlier in the year.
Adjacent to the lake park were two summer attractions that were in full swing in 1913: the Casino, and Luna Park.
Casino Park had an ice cream parlor and bowling alleys on the ground floor, a swimming pool out back, and a vaudeville theater auditorium upstairs.
Luna Park had a regular midway of games and rides including a roller coaster, a Ferris Wheel and a miniature train.
The Sunshine Club stayed at the park long after the sun had set, so club members could enjoy the electrifying thrill of seeing the park all lit up with strings of 10,000 light bulbs.