If you've ever passed through parts of Georgia, Alabama or Tennessee (or anywhere in between Texas and North Carolina) while on vacation, then you've likely seen one of the famous See Rock City barns that still dot rural stretches of U.S. highways and interstates. These fixtures of the rural South point travelers to Rock City, a tourist attraction located on Lookout Mountain, Ga. near Chattanooga, Tenn.
Garnet Carter, one of the founding fathers of miniature golf, started Rock City Garden with Frieda Carter in 1932. Three years later, painter Clark Byers began advertising the attraction on rural barns. By Byers' 1969 retirement, he had painted 900 barns in 19 states, from Michigan all the way down to Florida.
Messages on these painted barn roofs range from the simple "See Rock City" or "See Beautiful Rock City" to the wordier "When You See Rock City, You See the Best." Many also let motorists know how many miles separate them a chance to "See Seven States."
As rural farms continue to disappear, barn painters' classic designs have been kept alive by Rock City birdhouses.
Per seerockcity.com, politics played a role in the barn tradition's decline: "The highway beautification movement of Lyndon Johnson's presidency saw roadside signs as more of an eyesore than an icon, and a piece of billboard-banning legislation nicknamed the 'Ladybird Act' meant that many of Rock City's rooftop messages had to be removed."
Rock City wasn't the only road trip destination to use advertising barns. Nearby attraction Ruby Falls used similar marketing, as did Sequoyah Caverns, a now-closed roadside attraction in Valley Head, Al. Yet their barns don't scream 20th century Americana quite like those of Rock City.
Today, several barns are still standing, as shown on this handy map. Many of them are in Tennessee, where they're considered historic landmarks, and nearby Kentucky.
When GPS sends you down back roads and old highways, remember that Carter's vision of Rock City barns used to take vacationers down major thoroughfares to reach Lover's Leap and other majestic rock formations.