Chattanooga, TN: Rock City

Waterfall on Lover’s Leap Cliff, Rock City

How do you get people to come pay money to experience a rock garden atop a mountain? One way is how Garnet Carter advertised it: by painting “See Rock City” on barns situated along highways.

It all started in the late 1920s when Garnet and his wife, Frieda, decided to make a large walk-through garden on their estate atop Lookout Mountain in Georgia. Frieda diligently collected and preserved over 400 species of indigenous plants to tend and display in her garden. (Among other things, this earned her national acclaim from the Garden Club of America.)

Garnet, who invented Tom Thumb Miniature Golf, recognized the potential of family attractions and that Frieda’s garden qualified as such. But he also understood the need to advertise. After all, how would people know about or find this spectacle tucked away on the mountain otherwise?

Hence the barns. Their “See Rock City” and “See 7 States Atop Lookout Mt.” ads worked. People came. And all these years later they still come. (Due in part to Interstate advertising now, among other things. The barns are not forgotten, though. They live on as Americana nostalgia in books like See Rock City Barns: A Tennessee Tradition and Rock City Barns: A Passing Era, and as birdhouses.)

What has Rock City Gardens become since the Depression? Some would say a tourist trap, which is what I thought it was going to be judging from the kitschy roadside signs that bombard drivers up and down I-24 approaching Chattanooga. I’ve been wrong before, and I was in this case too.

Here’s my impression of Rock City: it’s a real life Secret Garden that’s not much of a secret. I was enchanted by its trails, the passages along which are graced with wrought iron markers bearing names like “Deer Park,” “Goblin’s Underpass,” and “Fat man’s Squeeze.” (See pictures below.)

Wayne going through Fat Man’s Squeeze

Me at the entrance to Goblin’s Underpass

There’s a waterfall cascading down the cliff at Lover’s Leap. (A romantic story about star-crossed Native American lovers a la Romeo and Juliet gives the cliff its name. See photo at the beginning of this article.) To get to and from the observation point, where you can try to identify seven states, you can cross either the swing-along bridge (a plank-and-cable bridge that sways just as its name implies) or the sky bridge (sturdier, made of rock, and doesn’t sway).

Sky Bridge

Swing-A-Long Bridge –very swingy!

The trail ends up at the Fairyland Caverns. Inside, gnomes, dioramas of scenes from fairy tales like Snow White and Cinderella, and a room called Mother Goose’s Village await to delight children (and inner children).

Entrance to Fairyland Caverns

Example of gnomes found inside the Fairyland Caverns

It’s not a day long adventure by any stretch. In an hour and a half you can go through the entire thing. That was my biggest disappointment. I would have loved to linger there all day soaking up the charmed atmosphere!

Courtney Mroch is a Pets Blogger. Read more of her blogs here.

Learn More About Rock City.

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