Hartman Rock Garden1905 Russell Avenue
Springfield, Ohio 45506
Hartman Rock Garden
Like every true artist, Ben Hartman had a vision. Between 1932 and his death in 1944, the blue-collar laborer created in his backyard a wondrous landscape of rock sculptures that has brought joy to generations of visitors.
The Hartman Rock Garden is a world unto its own. Set against the backdrop of the twelve-foot high walls of “The Castle,” the sculpture garden shows Ben Hartman’s distinctive worldview, his devotion to country, American history, and a personal Christian cosmology. His choice of subjects exudes a warm humanity and generous sense of humor. Pathways are adorned with inlaid inscriptions, and colorful figurines enliven the bald stone landscape. The Hartman Rock Garden embodies the best tradition of self-taught art: aesthetically distinctive, genre-defying, whimsical, and heartfelt.
Vernacular religious symbols are fused with patriotism, as in the towering, cactus-like "Tree of Life," adorned with an eagle atop a stars-and-stripes shield and globe inscribed with ‘U.S.’ Biblical quotes inlayed in the pavement have a deadpan quality. In one, Jesus’s instruction to the apostle John to care for his mother, Mary, is amended to, “Behold thy mother and don’t forget your dad.”
The garden is a three-dimensional history primer for important patriotic sites: Mount Vernon, the Liberty Bell, the Betsy Ross House, Lincoln’s Cabin and Tomb. Civil War sites were also a favorite subject, such as the Ginnie Ward House, John Brown’s Fort, and the Barbara Fritchie House.
Harry George “Ben” Hartman was born in 1883 in Pennsylvania and moved to Springfield in 1913 as a trained mold-maker. He worked at the Springfield Machine Tool Company foundry for most of his career. He was laid off in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression and hired back in 1939. In the intervening years, he applied his professional skills to creating his stone sculpture garden. When he died in 1944, his wife, Mary, took over the care of the garden until her death in 1997. In 2008, The Kohler Foundation secured the site and began preservation efforts. The garden is now owned and operated by the volunteer-led Friends of the Hartman Rock Garden.
Notes for Travelers
The best way to experience Hartman Rock Garden is with a child’s sense of wonder. And if you have any children in your life, be sure to bring them along. In fact, much of the scale and placement of the rock sculptures is just right for a child’s-eye view. The Hartman Rock Garden is open 365 days of the year, from dawn to dusk. Admission is free, but donations are always welcome to support the ongoing cost of preservation. Private docent-led tours are by appointment and include a 45-minute guided tour, tour booklets for each guest, access to the art pieces and molds in storage, and a brief demonstration of how Ben Hartman created his visionary art.