Hidden gem attraction Hartman Rock Garden offers free self-guided kids tour

Children looking for an adventure that rocks this summer can find it at Springfield’s Hartman Rock Garden.

Hartman Rock Garden is the home of some unique rock artwork, including meticulously crafted replicas of the White House, Independence Hall and other well-known national landmarks made from small stones.

The garden at 1905 Russell Ave. has added a new self-guided children’s tour geared toward ages 7-12. Participants can search for hidden art objects based on shape and hunt for hidden symbols.

Admission is free and tour booklets are available at the garden or for download at http://hartmanrocks.org/kids-tour/.

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The garden is a great addition to any summer bucket list. It features hand-made objects created from concrete, metal, glass, stone and other objects by Ben Hartman between 1932 and 1944. It annually attracts an estimated 5-10,000 visitors from across the country.

While the coronavirus pandemic has created many cancellations and closings, this tour seemed destined to counter that.

“This program wasn’t designed for a COVID-19 world. It was finished before (the pandemic) happened, but when we look at the realities of 2020, it looked like it was designed that way,” said Kevin Rose of Friends of the Hartman Rock Garden and the tour’s designer.

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Since the rock garden is outdoors, is in a no-touch environment and the tour is aimed at family groups, it makes a welcome place to explore opposed to crowded attractions.

“Hartman Rock Garden was built for social distancing before that was a thing. There never seems to be more than six or seven people at the most at any time,” Rose said.

While the kids tour is aimed at an elementary school-age crowd, other family members can be drawn to learn, hunt and find objects as well, which Rose said is an ideal way to spend time together.

“The garden appeals to very broad audiences,” he said. “You don’t have to be part of a museum audience or have a PhD in art history to enjoy it. Everybody has different ideas and interpretations.”

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Rose estimates 80 percent of the garden’s visitors are adults, but believes Hartman designed the garden with children in mind, inspired by his own stepdaughter, who is now 95.

Tourists will be challenged to find five objects that fit into a shape that sum up the garden, explore the various sights and finish by drawing or writing a story about their experience.

Rose helped design the tour with input from his spouse, educators and others. But it was the validation of his kids, who are younger than the recommended ages of the tour, that got the seal of approval.

He was also pleased to encounter a mom and daughter from Columbus taking the tour recently, knowing how special it is to see people enjoying something he worked on.

While the garden doesn’t have hard admission statistics, they are finding most of the recent visitors are from the state or region. Rose hopes those who haven’t discovered what’s considered a hidden gem in a quiet Springfield neighborhood will do so.

“We count our blessings we can operate as an open sight that welcomes visitors during this time,” he said.

Visitors are encouraged to wear masks.


What: Hartman Rock Garden

Where: 1905 Russell Ave., Springfield

When: Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

Cost: Free but donations accepted

More info: http://hartmanrocks.org/

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