“See Rock City” For those who remember the era of the family vacation, the tail fin, and the endless joys of passing the miles by tormenting your sister in the back seat these words bring back a multitude of fond memories.
It seems like yesterday when this message could be found emblazoned on countless barns throughout the Southeast and as far west as Oklahoma and as far north as Michigan. “See Seven States from Rock City” and the “World’s 8th Wonder,” all of this was as much a part of a drive through the Land of Dixie as RC Cola, Moon Pies, and sweltering summer evenings thick with the scent of honeysuckle blossoms.
With hindsight, we see this simplistic advertising campaign as one of the most successful ever devised. Simply select a barn facing towards a heavily traveled road and offer the owner a monthly sum for the use of the wall, or roof, for the slogan plus the promise of repainting the entire barn on a regular basis. A similar idea had worked quite well for the Chattanooga Medicine Company in the late 1890’s and there was no reason to expect different in the modern era.
In time, the slogan “See Rock City” almost eclipsed the attraction itself in notoriety and during World War II appeared on everything from helmets and tanks to ammunition crates and jeeps. In Korea and Vietnam, the tradition continued and a PX near Saigon sported a sign that read, “Only 13,000 miles to Lookout Mountain and Rock City.”
Today few barns with the faded slogans remain along the roadside but postcards and faded photographs mark their passing. Rock City, however, located high atop Lookout Mountain in extreme northern Georgia is alive and well and is a near-perfect time capsule from an era when Studebakers still rolled from the factory in South Bend, and Route 66 was just one of many two-lane highways being replaced by the modern wonder of the interstate highway system.
The secrets of Rock City, the inspiring stone pinnacles that shelter shaded avenues and the stunning vista from the summit were attracting visitors long before the advent of the advertising on barns or even automobiles. The mountain citadel fascinated Christian missionary to the Cherokee Indians David Butrick in 1832 where, “immense boulders were arranged in such a way as to afford streets and lanes.” During the American Civil War, the mountain was the scene of intense fighting as both sides fought for control of the summit in an effort control the extensive network of river and railroad traffic that lay just below in the valley of the Tennessee River.
With the dawn of the twentieth century, Lookout Mountain was already an established refuge for those seeking respite from the cloying summer heat of the river valley. In an effort to profit for this popularity Garnett Carter, an entrepreneur whose family had moved onto the mountain when he was eleven years of age, began construction of an exclusive residential subdivision next to the rock gardens near the mountains summit in 1924.
Frieda, his wife, had a deep fascination for German fairy tails as well as European folklore that spanned centuries. As the stone gardens had long been associated with stories of goblins it seemed a natural to christen the new project Fairyland with street names, such as Peter Pan Lane, chosen to fit the theme.
While Carter focused his resources on development his wife turned towards transforming the “Rock City” into a story book dream brought to life; the ultimate rock garden. With balls of twine, she began to lay out trails through the formations to the giant outcropping known as Lovers Leap. She gathered and planted wildflowers as well as other native plants, statues of gnomes and other figures from folklore. Some were imported from as far away as Germany.
The hard economic times of the Great Depression almost crushed the Fairyland housing project. With time on his hands, Garnett Carter turned his creative talents to the promotion and further development of his wife’s award winning mountain top rock garden that had opened to the public May 21, 1932.
Initially the number of paying customers who came to see the mountain top wonderland was small in number. Then in 1935, the now famous barn painting advertisement campaign began. By the mid 1960’s more than one thousand barns in nineteen states were adorned with Rock City slogans and the attraction was welcoming tens of thousands of visitors annually.
Today Rock City’s scenic trails lead through beautiful gardens to awe-inspiring vistas, past thundering waterfalls, and among rock formations with whimsical names like Fat Man’s Squeeze and Goblin’s Underpass as they have for more than a half century. The caverns filled with gnomes, goblins, elves, and other forest creatures still delight children of all ages just as they have since the gardens opened in 1932.
In a recent interview, Bill Carter, a member of Rock City Gardens’ founding family, summarized what has made it a popular attraction for more than 70 years. “We have a lot of people that were here as kids come back and bring their kids and grand kids,” he said. “They remember it and tell us it was a big hit both vacations.”

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