Chattanooga, TN Part I: Rock City
Hixson, TN - Events of Thursday, October 11, 2012
As we said, we found a lot of potential things to do in Chattanooga. Thursday was predicted to be the clearest day of the next several, so we decided to head to Lookout Mountain because a couple of the things we wanted to do were outdoors and would be much better to do in clear weather.
Lookout Mountain is a narrow ridge that lies just to the south of the city of Chattanooga and extends down into Georgia and Alabama. One of the things we wanted to see on Lookout Mountain was Rock City. Rock City is a roadside attraction for which Paul remembers seeing advertisements back when he was a kid traveling to Florida with his family on vacation. Much like the "Chew Mailpouch" signs on barns, Rock City had hundreds of barn roofs as far west as Texas and as far north as Michigan painted with "See Rock City." The Highway Beautification Act passed in 1965 controlled outdoor advertising within 1000 feet of the highway and put an end to the painting of advertisements on barns.
In the past, Lookout Mountain was inhabited by Native Americans. Two missionaries went to the area in 1823 to minister to the Indians, and a journal entry of one of the missionaries mentioned a "citadel of rocks" on top on the mountain with immense boulders that had paths and lanes running between them. Afterward, sightseers and hikers came from all over to explore what they nicknamed Rock City.
Garnet Carter, who had moved to Chattanooga from nearby Sweetwater, TN, was a promoter and entrepreneur. In the early 1920s he decided to develop a residential neighborhood on Lookout Mountain. He named the development Fairyland because of his wife Frieda's fascination with the Old-World folklore of fairies and gnomes.
A golf course was supposed to be part of the development, but when construction took longer than expected, Carter instead built a miniature golf course to appease those residents who were clamoring to play golf. His is recognized as the first miniature golf course in the United States. In 1927, he franchised his course designs as Tom Thumb Golf.
Fairyland encompassed the area known as Rock City. Frieda Carter set out to develop a rock garden to end all rock gardens at Rock City in the late 1920s. Frieda marked her paths with string so she could find her way around the huge boulders. She collected wildflowers and other plants and transplanted them along her trails.
When Garnet's Tom Thumb Golf began to hit hard times during the Depression, he realized people might be willing to pay money to see his wife's garden. Rock City officially opened to the public in 1932, which makes 2012 their 80th anniversary. Rock City is still owned by third-generation members of the Garnet family.
Once inside the gate, we followed the map and headed down the path between two large boulders.
The walkways between the boulders lie in deep shadow and are cool and peaceful. There are hidden speakers that play quiet music and bird sounds.
Periodically, the path rises out from a narrow crevice into the sunlight.
The path continues along the tops of some of the rocks. You can look down from stone bridges to see where you were on the walkway below a few minutes before.
At the far end of the 14-acre property lies a large open area where there is a pavilion, a refreshment stand, and a stone terrace that serves as an overlook. There was an interesting swing made from logs at the pavilion.
Adjacent to the terrace is the home that once belonged to Garnet and Frieda Carter. It is still a private residence, but we're not sure whether Carter family members still live there or not.
From the terrace, it is claimed you can see 7 states. The farthest are Kentucky and Virginia, which are 120 miles away, so seeing them is doubtful. However Military commanders during the Civil War from both the North and the South supported that claim.
There are still many private homes on Lookout Mountain, some of which can be seen from the terrace at Rock City.
The path that returns to the entrance is a bit more adventuresome and less tranquil than the path to the terrace. Our first clue was a swinging bridge over a deep gorge. Although there is a stone bridge that runs parallel to the swinging bridge in case you are squeamish, Margery bravely crossed the swinging bridge.
The next photo shows paths winding along the cliff next to the terrace. There is one path at the top of the cliff, and a second one cut into the face of the cliff a little below the first.
At one turn in the path along the face of the cliff there is an appropriately-placed sculpture of a bald eagle.
The path then cuts back from the face of the cliff and descends again down between the boulders into Fat Man's Squeeze. Fat Man's Squeeze is less than two feet wide at chest level in a few spots.
Around another bend is Balanced Rock, which is a 1,000 ton boulder that rests on a couple of narrow rocks at its outer edge.
We mentioned that Frieda Carter was fascinated by fairies and gnomes. There are scenes with gnomes at numerous places in little nooks and crannies like the moonshine still scene below.
Fairyland Caverns, which is a man-made tunnel of rocks, also features gnomes of all sizes and descriptions as well as miniature scenes from many fairy tales and nursery rhymes.
We really enjoyed our visit to Rock City. It was a pleasant combination of tranquility, adventure and whimsy. We still have a lot we want to do in the Chattanooga area, so look for our next post to see where we went next.