The Hartman Rock Garden is one of the nation’s most intriguing and revered works of in situ folk art, an outsider art phenomena where self-taught artists construct fascinating worlds out of concrete, metal, stone, and whatever else they can find.
Harry George “Ben” Hartman was born in 1883 in Edenville, Pennsylvania. At the age of 16 he left home to learn mold-making, a craft in which he quickly became highly-skilled. He moved to Springfield, Ohio in 1913, where he worked as a molder at the Springfield Machine Tool Company foundry. After the death of his first wife Maggie in 1928, Ben married Mary, who had a daughter, Ruth, from a previous relationship. The couple soon added two more children to their family: Martha and Benjamin. They resided in a small house on the corner of Russell and McCain, located in a mostly rural area on the outskirts of town. There Ben and Mary raised pigeons, chickens and rabbits. Both had a love of gardening and even built two greenhouses to hold the many varieties of flowers and vegetables they grew.
In 1932, at the age of 48, and in the midst of the Great Depression, Ben was laid off from his job as a molder. He was not content with his newly-sedentary lifestyle and began constructing a cement fishing pond in his backyard. By the time he had finished the project, Ben was hooked. He began constructing a variety of structures and figures, following the themes of history, religion, and patriotism. For the remaining twelve years of his life, Ben filled his yard with over fifty structures, numerous varieties of plants, and countless handmade figurines. Using hundreds of thousands of stones, Ben had created a very unusual garden. In 1939, he returned to work at the foundry, which dramatically slowed his work on the garden. Only five years later in 1944, Ben died from silicosis, an occupational lung disease. For the next fifty-three years, Mary took on the monumental task of maintaining the garden, caring for the wide array of flowers, preserving Ben’s intriguing structures, giving tours, and even adding small details where she saw fit. Visitors may have seen it as a rock garden, but she called it “a garden of love.”
After Mary’s passing in 1997, the garden began to succumb to the elements and, ten years later, was showing serious signs of disrepair and neglect. In 2008, the Wisconsin-based Kohler Foundation, known for its involvement in the preservation of significant folk art sites across the country, purchased and restored Ben and Mary’s unusual masterpiece. In December 2009, with most of the restoration complete, Kohler transferred ownership of the site to the newly-formed Friends of the Hartman Rock Garden. Although never actually closed during the restoration, the garden celebrated its grand reopening in June 2010.
Over the past eighty-plus years, the Hartman Rock Garden has welcomed tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world. With its recent restoration and ongoing preservation, it is poised to welcome countless more over the coming decades. We hope you enjoy your visit and that you will consider making a donation to help ensure that this national treasure is preserved, maintained, and interpreted for future generations.
Today, the Hartman Rock Garden is owned, interpreted, and maintained by the Friends of the Hartman Rock Garden, a local 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization.