See Rock City

See Rock City
Nikon Df, 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF Nikkor

On State Road 67 just north of Spencer, Indiana, you’ll find this red barn. Rock City features enormous ancient rock formations and the ability to see seven states from atop Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga, Tennessee. A number of barns in many states were painted with advertisements like this for Rock City during the attraction’s early days.

I follow the blog of David Jenkins, a professional photographer. One of his major projects was to photograph every Rock City barn that remained. He used paper records that Rock City kept and drove all over to find and photograph them all. He published a book of his photographs called Rock City Barns: A Passing Era. The book is out of print. You can find them used on Amazon but I think David might still have some new copies he’d be happy to sell you. Check out his blog here.

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14 responses to “single frame: See Rock City”

  1. marcusterrypeddle Avatar

    I thought I had clicked the bookmark for David’s blog by mistake when I saw the photo in this post.
    I like the colour but the picture seems a bit soft. Is it the lens? Or compression from WordPress?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, it’s soft. :-( I made this at f/8, 1/800, ISO 800. So it’s probably shake.

  2. Warren W Jenkins Avatar
    Warren W Jenkins

    Owen County; a step back in time…
    In 1994, I found a gas station in Spencer that still had its 1940s era pumps, and yes, there was an attendant!
    I felt like I was in an episode of The Andy Griffith show…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Nice! Closest I’ve come is a station on the SW side of Indy on Old SR 37 that was straight outta the 70s, in about 2008.

  3. Dave Jenkins Avatar

    Wow! Thanks, Jim. The old Spencer barn is looking pretty good., Unfortunately, many of the Rock City barns are going the opposite direction; declining and disappearing. The first one I photographed, around 1988, as best I remember, was on U.S. 150 five miles east of Paoli. It finished rotting into the ground several years ago. Another, about five miles farther along on 150, is still standing, but sadly run down.
    I photographed the Spencer barn on New Year’s Day, 1995. We were visiting my parents in Martin County for the holidays and I took my dad with me for the day to track down the south central Indiana barns on my list. This was the first one we came to. Most of the other sites we visited that day were long gone.
    The Rock City Barns book sold more than 29,000 copies. I had about a hundred copies left until I sold them all to a distributor in 2021 — couldn’t carry them around in our RV.
    Thanks very much for the mention.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      This barn looks like it got a recent repaint. Sad to hear that most others are not so fortunate. Happy to mention your work!

  4. Ted Kappes Avatar

    I remember seeing these signs all over the place when I was a kid. We even had book covers that said See Rock City. They gave them to schools for free. There also were a lot of signs for Meramec Caverns.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My sons and I saw many Meramec signs on our Route 66 tour, so much so that we actually stopped to tour the caverns!

  5. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    My older sister worked in the central south for most of her career in academia, and the Rock City barns were always a joke between us when I went down to visit, as well as “See Seven States” (which you can’t really see because of the curvature of the earth). Interesting to learn there’s actual documentation of the sites, so could someone actually tell us which was the farthest barn painted away from Rock City? This was always a question we needed answered!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s a great question! I’ll bet Dave Jenkins knows the one he photographed that’s the farthest away, if not the barn that’s the farthest away.

  6. Dave Jenkins Avatar

    I think the most distant (from Chattanooga) barn I photographed was on U.S.80, eight miles west of Longview, Texas.I also photographed a barn near Wilmington, NC and others in north central Ohio on U.S.127. There were at one time three Rock City barns in Wisconsin, but their records had been lost long before I began the project. There was also a large barn at Lansing, Michigan before my time. Through the years Rock City. painted more than 800 barns, although never that many at any given time.
    I’m currently working on a book to be called “Lost Barns of Rock City” — barns I’ve discovered by various means that have been lost from Rock City’s records.

    1. Andy Umbo Avatar
      Andy Umbo

      Thank you Dave! My sister will be surprised to hear that there were some in Wisconsin, as well as Lansing, where she is now retired!

  7. J P Avatar

    I remember seeing these barns through the years, but never knew what Rock City was. My education continues.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      A public service, brought to you by Down the Road.

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