H.G. Hartman started this backyard rock garden as something to do while unemployed in 1932. Starting with a simple project to build a fish pond, he added famous landmarks in miniature, religious scenes and pop culture figures, all made from cement embedded with small stones. By the time he went back to work in 1939 he had created a full tableau he called grandly "Hartman's Historical Garden," as promoted on an antique postcard.
Hartman died in 1944, but the garden was maintained by his widow and then youngest son, who passed away in 2007. Some of the walls and little houses have collapsed over the years, but most have survived remarkably well for 70 years of rain and snow. Entering the garden from the street side, one passes an orderly row of tiny stone houses and small planters, leading toward the middle of the garden centered around an elaborate stone eagle perched atop the crest of the Union.
The far end of the garden is separated from the alley by a high stone wall with arches and niches sheltering saints and garden gnomes alike. One end of the stone wall merges into a little metropolis of historical architecture, with castles, stone log cabins, mills and missions conjoined into an urban American history lesson without any obvious timeline. Little scenes illustrating proverbs and historical events happen just around the corner from one another.
Peeking in among the greenery one finds tiny scenes of army men and angels, labelled with hand lettered signs just barely legible. Aphorisms and exhortations set into the sidewalk are now weathered and faded into obscurity. The visitor senses that this was perhaps once a pedagogical garden, like the sunken garden of Rockome, a lesson of flowers and rock forms merged with words of wisdom and humor. But with the original tour guide gone and his writing fading away, the few words left have become simply odd-sounding remnants of Depression-era language that mean nothing to the modern visitor.
References and Links to Hartman's Historical Garden
presented by Minnesota Museum of the Mississippi