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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

From the Archives Part 4: Roseville Prison



A forgotten prison in a small Eastern Ohio town that was once part of the larger state penitentiary system. Featuring photographs from 2007: part 4 of From the Archives.


- The Roseville Prison as seen in the Fall of 2007.

The first story in this From the Archives series took place at the abandoned Oakley Drive-In Theatre. Jon and I explored the drive-in the summer after we graduated high school. There’s a story from years ago here on QC/D that is essentially the origin story or “prequel” to how a blog, originally, mainly, and somewhat still today about the exploration of abandoned places, got started. It began with Jon at the forgotten Surf Cincinnati back in 2006. He and I would sit in our 11th grade journalism class browsing ForgottenOH.com, in awe at the thought of exploring some of these places. Surf Cincinnati was the gateway drug that kicked off an addiction of exploration and eventually this website. In the early days, Jon was there for a lot of these adventures. After we spent a summer at places like The Oakley, we found ourselves going to separate universities. In the fall of that year, Jon came to visit me. I wasn't particularly fond of the college town Athens, Ohio, so I was anxious to get away. One weekend, Jon gave me a lift, and we set off on the road to Roseville.

- Roseville Prison overgrown with vegetation in 2007.

Information on the internet was a bit sparse, aside from the ever popular ForgottenOH.com. After what felt like hours and several arguments about printed directions, we rounded a corner to see a lone guard tower shortly followed by the hulking brick structure.


The main building looked more like a Catholic elementary school than a prison. We came all this way but didn’t have much of a plan. To our surprise—and initial dismay—we saw someone running a tractor across the dirt field just inside the prison grounds—someone who probably wasn’t going to be happy seeing some random guys out of the corner of his eye, traipsing about his supposedly abandoned prison. We had come all this way and figured, “What the hell? Can’t hurt to ask.” We walked into the prison yard and waved the guy down. He shut off the tractor and looked at us, surprised, apparently not used to having people walk onto his property and say hi in the middle of work. I don’t remember who asked the key question, but he rubbed the back of his neck and squinted before somewhat skeptically, yet in a friendly manner, saying, “Uh… sure.”

- The prison yard.

There were stipulations though: we were told to “be safe” and that we had to be out of there before he was done. Looking at the area yet to be tilled, we realized we didn’t have much time and ran off into the main prison building.


The prison was fairly empty and void of the contents you’d assume to find in an old stockade. The metal bars, though, were all over the place, their locks gutted to prevent anyone from having the door seal behind them.


There was some graffiti here and there and lots of dust, but even the old cells were void of remnants. Out in the yard, a mobile home and some trailers stood in contrast to the stone wall. One defining characteristic, however, was an old guard tower being overgrown by vegetation. At the bottom of the tower, an old chalk scoreboard for keeping track of baseball innings - once a way to pass the time for those incarcerated here.

- One of the guard towers along the stone wall. The old scoreboard can be seen just to the right of it.

Some areas were in rough shape—the roof or part of a wall collapsed—but, for the most part, the building was holding up pretty well. We walked back into the yard and up to our host who had just finished his work. We thanked him, said goodbye, and hopped back in the car. A month later, I launched the first article here on QC/D, but, for whatever reason, never did one about the trip to Roseville.



QC/D is nearing ten years old, and I’ve seen some parallels between it and ForgottenOH, such as attempts at keep up with updates, our similar subject matter, and an accumulated database of exploration and adventure. One area where we differ, though, is the paranormal. I want to be clear: I understand that some people absolutely believe in that type of thing. That’s their right to do so, and I respect their beliefs. Personally, I don’t believe in ghosts (and if you email me asking if I’ve seen any or if I can help out your “ghost hunting investigation squad,” I’m probably not gonna answer). The ForgottenOH article makes mention of rumors about the “ghost woman who jumps from the roof each night in a reenactment of her suicide.” In the end, ForgottenOH never comes across anything supernatural, and neither did we (not that we could have), but they did mention how every time they visited, they got sick. After saying goodbye to our tractor tour guide, I’m happy to report that we never fell ill from the prison or its supposed spirits. Nonetheless, an abandoned prison is a surreal place to visit, whether you believe it’s “haunted” or not.


Roseville and another prison in Junction City were “satellite” facilities of the main Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus (now demolished and replaced by the Blue Jacket’s Nationwide Arena). Both Roseville and Junction were brick-making facilities that employed prison labor to create materials for state projects.


Roseville opened in 1927 and housed inmates who had demonstrated good behavior during their time at the main state pen in the capitol. Prisoners worked the ovens, tended the onsite farm, and played baseball. The bricks that were made here (and at other state prison facilities) supposedly can still be found all over Ohio. Some reports claim the bricks are stamped with the words “convict made,” while others claim they’re stamped with “OBA” for “Ohio Board of Administration.” In 1966, the prison closed and the property began to languish. A trucking company called it home for a bit, and it even hosted a walk-through “haunted house” as well as a paintball arena.

- Baseball scoreboard seen to the right of the guard tower.

As of April 2016, the prison was still standing, and a family was tending the property, living on the grounds. There’s a short interview with them here in Southeastern Ohio Magazine. The website “GraveAddiction” features plenty of stories sent in by readers about their spooky experiences, one claiming the property owner fired a 9mm pistol at her when he didn’t buy her “we’re investigating stories we read about” explanation. Moral of the story: stop watching “Ghost Hunters,” and don’t go bother the people who call this place home.



Years after these photographs were made, my Dad and I took a trip to another closed Ohio prison: the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. Unlike the derelict condition of Roseville, Mansfield is still maintained. It was also the primary shooting location for the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption. Mansfield still offers tours and markets itself based on the claim that it’s “haunted” (it’s not). They also claim they own any photographs you take there (they don’t).

Stay tuned for more stories from the archives soon.

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