When does advertising become a historic landmark? Not just yet, at least as it concerns the rural barns leading us to Rock City, and that’s why they are disappearing. Rock City is a tourist attraction atop Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga in Tennessee. It was founded by Garnet Carter in 1932. Carter needed to advertise Rock City, but only to people who could travel there. Roadside ads made sense, but billboards were expensive to build. And that’s why barn roofs were painted in large white letters on a black background with short slogans, the shortest being “See Rock City.” Another barn down the road would give more information. Farmers were happy to have their barns painted free, and also got a small stipend or free entrance to Rock City. Oh yeah, and they were all painted by one guy.
The Rock City barns intrigued me as a child on road trips with the family, and actually helped me learn to read. The Interstate Highway System was inaugurated in 1956, but it took decades to complete in mountainous areas. Even more threatening to the painted barns was the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, which restricted billboard advertising. At one time, there were 900 barns directing travelers to Rock City, and today there are only 70 that are being maintained. Read the history of the See Rock City barns at Atlas Obscura.
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