Backyard Wonders

Some of Ohio’s most interesting hand-built creations can be found right in someone’s backyard. Two of these artistic anomalies are the Temple of Tolerance in Wapakoneta and the Hartman Rock Garden in Springfield. These creative exhibits are open for self-tours all year (guided tours may be scheduled) and are completely free of charge. Both were created for the enjoyment of others. They stand as testaments of human creativity, proving that the work of a single person is capable of becoming an inspiring exhibit of art.

The Temple of Tolerance was created and is maintained by Jim Bowsher. Jim made the temple as a sanctuary of acceptance to bring people together. Built-in the middle of his backyard, the Temple of Tolerance consists of thousands of rocks, each individually photographed to preserve their unique backstories. The temple has a gathering place populated with benches and a fire pit. It took Jim an astounding 18 years of designing and hauling rocks to construct this outdoor masterpiece. Jim’s work also includes the massive eight-foot-tall tube on his property containing one bullet shell for every fallen soldier from Ohio since 1812. These shells were collected from Wapakoneta, New Bremen, and the Moulton Gun Club, all working together to make this feat possible. Jim made these unbelievable works with the intention to bring people together, and since the word has spread of his backyard wonder, it seems he has done just that.

The Hartman Rock Garden (Play Video) is another example of incredibly complex stone structures built simply in someone’s backyard. Harry George “Ben” Hartman is the man responsible for this creative art exhibit. Ben started learning mold-making at the young age of 16, and after being laid off in the Great Depression, he needed to find a way to keep himself active. After constructing a fishing pond in his backyard, Ben spent the following 12 years making new additions to the rapidly growing display. After Ben and his wife Mary passed away, the Kohler Foundation purchased and restored the rock garden and passed ownership on to the Friends of the Hartman Rock Garden, who keep it open to this day.  The garden contains over 50 structures made of thousands of stones, including a replica of The White House and other themes of history, religion, and patriotism. The rock garden also has many flowers, plants, and figurines, all bringing the spectacle to life. Its long life of changing ownerships, and aided by generous visitor donations, the Hartman Rock Garden seems to defy time.

The Temple of Tolerance and Hartman Rock Garden are both tributes to the amazing things that can be achieved with nothing but passion for an idea. They both started off as nothing but an idea, but through years of development and labor became complete personal displays of ingenuity. Their completely original and innovative designs have been intriguing enough to bring people together from across the country. Sometimes the most interesting places to go are right in your neighbor’s backyard.

Plan your visit to these two Ohio backyard wonders. The Temple of Tolerance is located at 203 S. Wood St. in Wapakoneta, Ohio (Map It). For more information, call 419-738-4474. Hartman’s Rock Garden is located at 1905 Russell Avenue, Springfield, Ohio (Map It). For more information, email or visit

By Dominic Satullo

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