Saturday’s adventures took me to a place that has been on my to do list for most of my adult life. Seems like I read an article about it in Victoria Magazine when I was a teenager but somehow never found my way there. It’s called Hartman Rock Garden and, while small, it’s one of the most extraordinary folk art sites you’ll find in Ohio.
It all began when Springfield resident Harry George “Ben” Hartman was laid off from his job in 1932. He was a molder at the Springfield Machine Tool Company foundry. The Great Depression was tightening its grip on the country, work was hard to find, and he was not impressed with all his newfound free time. So what’s a guy to do? He set to work building a cement fishing pond in his back yard. He enjoyed that so much he began building all sorts of miniature buildings and characters throughout his back yard.
There’s a fourteen foot tall cathedral and a large castle as well. I liked the miniature Mount Vernon, the tiny sheep and the village of homes.
He left words of encouragement in the stone including the phrases “let us smile” and “seek the good life” for visitors to enjoy these many years later.
Hartman created a truly unique stone garden using hundreds of thousands of stones before his death in 1944. His wife Mary took on the role of maintaining his work, planting flowers and keeping it open to visitors until her death in 1997. While we call it a rock garden, Mary referred to it as a “garden of love.”
After her passing, the garden fell into a state of disrepair and was facing a bulldozer. That’s when the Kohler Foundation stepped in to buy the property and restore the garden. The Kohler company is know for faucets but the foundation is known for preserving bits of Americana across the country. Today, the garden is run by a local nonprofit organization and a small army of volunteers who are keeping it going.
The garden is free to explore but they happily accept donations. It’s open dawn to dusk and, as Mary used to say “Visitors are welcome if they know how to behave. This is my home.” So they do have a few rules including no smoking, don’t touch the rock structures, and children must be accompanied by an adult.
This is a great little side trip if you’re in the Springfield area. Just remember that this is folk art and it is quite old so don’t go looking for perfection. While there were a few of us oohing and aahing over things, there was some guy complaining that he expected to to be nicer. Don’t be that guy, please.
Get the address and other details over at their website.
Want to see more pictures? Hop over to Make the Journey Fun on Facebook to see more photos from Hartman Rock Garden.