Ontario is a city in Richland County in the U.S. state of Ohio. It was founded in 1834 on the western edge of the Allegheny Plateau, just west of the city of Mansfield. After being incorporated in 1958, Ontario became a heavy manufacturing center because of the Erie Railroad line, and its approximity to Mansfield. However, its status in that regard began to decline in the late 20th century when much of the Erie Railroad that once ran through the city were abandoned and shifts in the manufacturing industry that lead to the relocation or repositioning of many factories. The city's industry has since diversified into the service economy, including education, finance and healthcare. The city is also a major regional retail hub serving the entire North-Central Ohio area, with a shopping population of over 150,000.
Ontario was founded by Hiram Cook, and was platted in December 1834 as a settlement in Springfield Township near Mansfield. During that same month thereafter, the original settlement of Ontario merged with New Castle, another small settlement that was originally located just to the west of the Ontario settlement along the Mansfield and Bucyrus route (known today as State Route 309) that had just been laid out and platted. New Castle was named for Henry Cassell, while others stated that it was named in honor of Newcastle upon Tyne, a city in England. Ontario was named after Ontario County, New York, the native place of the founder of the town. In 1863, the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad (later Erie Railroad mainline) reached Ontario and a train station was built, but was later demolished after much of the railway was abandoned in the late 20th century.
The arrival of the Lincoln Highway to Ontario in 1913 was a major influence on the development of the town. Upon the advent of the federal numbered highway system in 1928, the Lincoln Highway through Ontario became U.S. Route 30.
In 1956, General Motors built a large Fisher Body stamping plant in Springfield Township and on June 25, 1958, the residents voted to incorporate Ontario into a village to bring the new General Motors plant into Ontario. In 1960, the new Ontario High School was built, complete with an indoor swimming pool, a theatre, 3 shops, and numerous high-tech classrooms and labs for college-preparatory studies. New school construction and renovation has continued over the years, and today the Ontario School District enjoys a long and distinguished reputation for education excellence with state-of-the-art facilities. In 1969, the Richland Mall was built. It was the first modern enclosed mall in north-central Ohio, and was originally anchored by the prestigious Lazarus Department Store (based in Columbus), the O'Neil's Department Store (based in Akron), and by Sears. The Lazarus store was the first Lazarus built outside of Columbus. The store's unique "high-hat" entrance tower remains visible for miles along U.S. Route 30. The Lazarus store eventually became Macy's, and then subsequently was closed in 2006 following the purchase of the May Department Store company by Federated Department Stores, parent of Macy's and the former Lazarus. The mall in 2002 was renamed Westfield Shoppingtown Richland for a period of time, is once again called Richland Mall following a name change in 2006. It is now home to almost 70 stores and is anchored by Macy's (located in the original O'Neils store that had become Kaufmann's for a period of time), Sears, and JCPenney (a later addition to the mall).
The arrival of both General Motors and the Richland Mall to Ontario was the beginning of the eventual shift of commerce and industry from the adjacent rust belt city of Mansfield to the new suburb-satellite town of Ontario. On June 1, 2009, General Motors filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and announced that its Ontario stamping plant (Mansfield-Ontario Metal Center) will close in June 2010. Several annexations have been made to Ontario since its incorporation and millions of dollars have been spent on public infrastructure including streets, water and sewer facilities, parks, schools, and new civic buildings for Administrative offices, Public Safety Departments and the Water Department. The city administration offices have been housed in several different locations including the "Old Library" which is now being used as a Senior Center. In 1986, the city's offices were moved to the newly constructed Charles K. Hellinger Municipal Building. On April 30, 2001, Ontario became a city with a population over 5,300.
Since the 1960s, Ontario has been a location of choice for residential development, due in part to its civic administration, its school system, and significant commercial and industrial development.