At one time, barns with “See Rock City” painted on them filled Southern roads. Now, the phrase has been adopted by billboards and the barns have become far less common. What were the barns’ significance and what did they lead to? Here’s the story behind “See Rock City” — spoiler alert: you’ll want to take a road-trip after reading this!
Rock City History
Rock City sits atop Lookout Mountain near the Tennessee/Georgia border. At 2,388 feet, its magnificent view makes it a popular tourist attraction. Though its reputation dates back to the 1800s, married couple Garnet and Frieda Carter helped make the site a household name. Garnet’s business background led him to believe the space had more potential than just an upscale neighborhood. After Frieda turned the area into a large rock garden, his idea for a tourist site was born.
Rock City Barns
Garnet had the idea to advertise Rock City on barns along roads leading to the attraction. He hoped that it would catch the eyes of travelers on the road after the Great Depression. He hired Clark Byers to paint different “See Rock City” slogans on the roofs and sides of participating barns. From 1935 to 1969, Byers painted Rock City advertisements on 900 barns in 19 states.
The Barns’ Decline
Though the “See Rock City” barns experienced a wave of popularity from the 1930s-1950s, the 1960s saw their decline. The Highway Beautification Act viewed billboards and painted roofs as eyesores. Therefore, many of them were taken down or simply not renewed. Though billboards have since experienced a resurgence, the barns weren’t so lucky.
Some “See Rock City” barns still remain, however. Though sightings are rare, their resonance serves as a reminder of a better-travelled time in America’s history — and the perfect reason for a road-trip through the South!
Text by Nick Adrian