Who Painted All Those Barns?

By  | May 10, 2018 | Filed under: Interesting Facts, News

Since 1935, Rock City barns have stood as genuine highway Americana, their bold white-on-black signs compelling both snowbirds and Sunday drivers to a spot near Chattanooga, Tennessee, where they could “See Rock City.”

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 Carter’s 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 1930s, more travelers than ever had seen Rock City Gardens.

But Who Painted all those barns?

Clark Byers

Clark Byers

Clark Byers painted the barns for three decades and became a legend in his own right by braving bulls, slippery roofs and lightning bolts. When he retired in 1969, he had painted some 900 barns in 19 states.

The usual arrangement was that the property owner received free passes to Rock City and an armload of promotional wares (like Rock City thermometers) along with the free painting for the use of his barn as an advertising aid. Those who didn’t need thermometers might be paid a modest sum of $3.

The highway beautification movement of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency saw roadside signs as more of an eyesore than an icon, and a piece of billboard-banning legislation nicknamed the “Ladybird Act” meant that many of Rock City’s rooftop messages had to be removed.

Some of Byers’ most clever catch phrases were buried under new, plain coats of paint and after nearly being electrocuted during a thunderstorm while on a repainting job, he retired.

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