Have you seen Rock City?
Or maybe you have been to Wall Drug?
I remember fondly these icons of advertising that took advantage of the American landscape and highway system. Actually, Wall Drug signs can be found around the world (I once saw a billboard in Kings Cross station of the London Underground). As a kid with road trippin parents, I always marveled at seeing a Wall Drug mileage sign nearly every direction we went. Between the advertisements for free ice water and the promise of a jackalope sighting, Wall Drug seemed like it would be the most extraordinary place to visit.
The west has Wall Drug but I think the south has Rock City. I had never heard of Rock City until my southern rooted mother-in-law gave me my very own Rock City Bird House over Thanksgiving. It is now completely assembled and ready to hang outside at the soonest sign of spring. I love it.
Researching Rock City led me to discover another marvel of landscape advertising. The magic of Wall Drug and Rock city are at least partly the result of the construction of the American highway system in the 40’s and 50’s. In a few short years tourism changed dramatically. If the interstates were going to bypass the entrances to attractions, then you needed a really good sign to drawn people in.
The history of rock city is charming and inspiring….Historical evidence shows that Native Americans inhabited Lookout Mountain, outside of Chatanooga, TN, and in 1823, missionaries described the place as “a citadel of rocks,” and noted the immense size of the boulders that were arranged in such a way “as to afford streets and lanes.”
It was the site of a Civil War battle, as the importance of the seven state view did not go unnoticed by both the north and south. Garnet Carter however, had the idea of developing a residential neighborhood on the top of the Mountain. In 1924, the new community,to be known as Fairyland, was to feature a golf course. The real course took longer than expected to build (typical landscapers!), so a smaller course was created to satisfy those clamoring to play. This gave rise to the first mini golf course know as Tom Thumb Golf. The depression got the best of the golf course business, but while Garnet was pursuing the mini-golf franchise effort, his wife Frieda was creating a garden on the 700 acre property. She wanted and created a rock garden to end all rock gardens. When his business failed, her enterprising husband recognized her efforts as having possibility for a new business, and he set out promoting them. Rock City was born.
From the Rock City 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 the 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 1930’s, more travelers than ever had seen Rock City Gardens.”
Have you seen Rock City? It is located atop Lookout Mountain, 6 miles from downtown Chattanooga. It features massive ancient rock formations, gardens with over 400 native plant species, “See 7 States” panoramic views, and caverns. I am quite curious about the place.
I wonder if they are still painting barns?…I would happily let them paint mine in exchange for a sign. It is in terrible need….I took this earlier today from my front door….fortunately you can’t tell from this distance how badly the paint is needed, but isn’t the snow pretty?
images (except mine above) from See Rock City blog.