See Rock City! Everywhere you go in the southeast you see these signs. “See Rock City” is painted on barns, birdhouses, playgrounds, and billboards. Most of the tourists who come to Chattanooga do not come to see the battlefields. They come to see Rock City. So one day last week, Tom and I decided we needed to see Rock City.
Rock City is one woman’s backyard landscaping project on steroids. It was laid out by Frieda Carter on the top of Lookout Mountain when she and her husband decided to build a home there in the 1920’s. Frieda plotted the paths, named the rock formations, and supervised the planting of over 400 species of native plants. The result is a horticultural masterpiece that was recognized for its conservation and cultural achievement by the Garden Club of America. The gardens opened to the public in 1932.
But Rock City is also filled with kitschy, weird touches. There is a cavern filled with fluorescent Mother Goose characters. There is a valley filled with garden gnomes doing lots of different things. There is an artificial waterfall that helps frame “Lover’s Leap” with the story of an Indian maiden and her beloved who jumped to their deaths when their warring tribes refused to allow them to marry.
One of the main reasons people go to Rock City is to “see seven states.” The view from the Lover’s Leap overlook is spectacular but I doubt that you can ever see seven states. Tom says it is impossible because of the curvature of the earth and the direction you are facing, but it is one of Rock City’s claims to fame. It also tends to be very hazy on the overlooks around Chattanooga. The actual story is this: soon after the Union Army captured Lookout Mountain, a Civil War nurse stood at the overlook at Point Park and said “I’ll bet you can see seven states from this point.” Rock City appropriated the quote as part of their advertising campaign.
Speaking of advertising campaigns, the reason there are “See Rock City” signs all over the US is Garnet Carter, the husband of Frieda. In 1936 he hired a young painter named Clark Byers to start painting “See Rock City” on barns. The farmers got their barn painted for free so they were willing to advertise Rock City. Thirty years and 900 barns later, “See Rock City” was a common sight from Michigan to Texas to Florida.
I am glad we took time to see Rock City. Now we can answer questions visitors to the battlefields ask us about this famous attraction. Have you seen Rock City?