Situated on Lookout Mountain in Northern Georgia, Rock City is a place of intense natural beauty which, over time, was systematically transformed into what is one of the single greatest example of American kitsch in existence.
Garden gnomes peer at you from within narrow rock corridors, bizarre dioramas of children’s fairy tales line cave walls, black lights assail the senses, and of course, the strange architecture of the first miniature golf course in the world awaits.
In the early 1900’s, a man by the name of Garnet Carter formed the idea of creating a residential community on top of Lookout Mountain. In honor of his wife’s interest in European folklore he decided to call this community “Fairyland.” In many ways it is a work of outsider “art”, which is to say aesthetically offensive in extremis, yet by virtue of its childlike ingenuousness, it manages to express something deeply charming.
In 1928 Frieda Carter began forging the trails and cultivating the gardens which from which began the attractions of Rock City. In 1932, Carter realized that his wife’s gardens, replete with imported German garden gnomes and other fairytale characters, would make a marketable attraction. The attraction was supplemented by Carter’s innovative golf course, which he called “Tom Thumb Golf”, now recognized as the first instance of miniature golf in the world. In 1936 Carter set out on a famous marketing campaign, during the course of which he painted “See Rock City” on close to 900 barn roofs over an area extending from Michigan to Texas. For the connoisseur of the bizarre, the chief attractions remain the “Hall of the Mountain King”, a twisting series of caverns that extend into the heart of Lookout Mountain, lined with the leering faces of dozens of gnomes. At the end of this journey one arrives in “Mother Goose Village”, a series of blacklight vignettes which illustrate in psychedelic neon various traditional nursery rhymes.
The mountain may be responsible for the naming of nearby town Chattanooga as the Creek Indian word “Chat-to-to-noog-gee” means “rock rising to a point.” It is also claimed from the time of the civil war that seven states could be seen from atop Lookout Mountain, a claim maintained to this day. The area now also includes numerous supplementary attractions, including a seasonal corn maze, light shows, birdwatching tours, and a trolley up the side of Lookout Mountain.
Know Before You Go
Take I-75 to Chattanooga. At the I-75/I-24 split, take I-24 West towards Downtown Chattanooga. Get off at exit 178, the Lookout Mountain/Market Street Exit. Go straight to the traffic light and turn left onto Broad Street. At the base of the mountain, turn left onto Tennessee Avenue and follow the signs to Rock City. A must is to see the holiday lights at Rock City! They are spectacular.