The story behind See Rock City barns

Ya’ll know my affinity for a good story and lesson and when I came across a book at my Airbnb about the barns, I started researching the “See Rock City” history. I was so excited to learn about this genius marketing effort on the part of Garnet Carter and Clark Byers. 

So here’s the story of the Rock City Barns. Garnet Carter and his wife Frieda started Rock City in the 1930’s on the top of Lookout Mountain.  Frieda had an affinity for gnomes and fairies and Garnet had an affinity for starting businesses. Together they came up with Rock City on top of Lookout Mountain.  

According to Rock City’s website “Rock City officially opened as a public attraction on May 21, 1932. It got off to a slow start because advertising in those days was difficult, especially since Carter’s mountain-top attraction was not located in a place that people would just happen to be passing by and take notice. It was at this point another brilliant idea of Carter’s was born. He enlisted the help of a young sign painter named Clark Byers, who was hired to travel the nation’s highways and offer to paint a farmer’s barns in exchange for letting him paint three simple words: See Rock City. The distinctive black-and-white signs appeared as far north as Michigan and as far west as Texas. The advertising soon began to produce the desired effect and by the close of the 1930s, more travelers than ever had seen Rock City Gardens.”

Byers became a key player in one of the greatest advertising campaigns of its time; a venture which made an obscure tourist attraction  near Chattanooga world famous and its slogan a household phrase. 

For over 30 years, Byers traveled tens of thousands of miles in nineteen states to paint barns with the phrase “See Rock City”. 

The marketing effort was simple and effective. It created a buzz about a natural wonder in an “off-the-beaten-path” location. But Carter also has a great mission to “Create Memories Worth Repeating.” With its nostalgic history, as well as its continual expansion for the future, Rock City Gardens has earned its reputation as a world-class destination and promises to be for generations to come.

The view from the top of Lookout mountain is spectacular and the rock city is so much fun, complete with gnomes and fairies. But what makes the whole journey so fun is the way you feel included in the attraction because of the See Rock City barns dotted along highways as well as the barns that are located throughout chattanooga. 

My landlord even has a rock city barn bird feeder in her garden. Now that I know the story behind the barns I am fascinated by how simple and effective this marketing campaign is and the excitement it elicits when I see the barns. It makes me feel a part of something bigger than an attraction.

Hopefully this fun story serves as a reminder that sometimes the most simple things can change the landscape of your world. And I hope next time you see a See Rock City barn you remember the guy who traipsed cross country painting barns!

We all have a purpose, something we’re good at. No matter how simple you might think your purpose is, it makes a difference to those around you and will be remembered and celebrated for years to come.