How one man created the Hartman Rock Garden from thousands of stones

In the 1930's, Ben Hartman hand-built an amazing artistic creation in his backyard. A rock garden of structures, animals and everything in-between. Years later, the Hartman Rock Garden still stands.

Driving through the post-war suburban housing of Springfield Ohio, you can search out one of the most unique backyard gardens in America: the Hartman Rock Garden. A hand-built mini-universe of structures, animals, shrines and historical monuments, all hand-crafted from cement and thousands upon thousands of small rocks. Even more remarkable, it was all the work of one man: Ben Hartman.

An unexpected creation

Born in 1883 in Edenville, Pennsylvania, Hartman moved to Springfield at age sixteen to learn moldmaking. Years later, the Great Depression of 1932 found him out of job, along with many other Americans. Not content to sit around, Hartman put his molding skills to use, and began to construct a cement fish pond in his backyard. From that moment, he was hooked. He started to build anything and everything that struck his interest. A lover of history, much of his handcrafted wonderland depicts scenes or locations like Valley Forge, the home of Betsy Ross, and Lincoln’s cabin. Christianity was also a major influence in Hartman’s work, with an impressive fourteen-foot cathedral towering over the garden, inset with images of the Last Supper and Biblical saints.

Not all of Hartman’s creations were of patriotism and piety.  The popular culture of the mid-to-late 1930’s is shown through the many figurines he sculpted. You can find Felix the Cat, Dopey from Snow White, the Lone Ranger and Mae West throughout the flowerbeds.

Although he returned to the workforce in 1939, only five years later Hartman passed away at the age of of sixty. His beloved wife Mary and their children tended the gardens for almost fifty-three years, calling it a “garden of love”. After Mary’s death, however, the grounds began to fall into disrepair. Luckily the Hartman Rock Garden was a well-known enough piece of visionary art environment that it attracted the attention of the Kohler Foundation, who purchased the garden in order to begin restoration of the works.

The garden today

Today, the garden is under the care of the Friends of the Hartman Rock Garden, a group of individuals who are dedicated to keeping the unique piece of Americana looking fresh as when Ben and Mary created it. Running on donations, restoration is still a work in progress, but much of the grounds are back to their original glory.

You can visit the gardens yourself, and they are open 365 days a year from dawn to dusk, although it is at its best from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day Weekend. Self-guided tours are always free, but you are encourage you to make a donation to support the cause. 100% of all donations support the longterm care of the garden. You can learn more about seeing the Hartman Rock Garden’s website. 

The Hartman Rock Garden is located at 1905 Russell Ave, Springfield OH

You can see another hand-made labor of love with Eggshell Land, a yearly display of over 40,000 eggs.