You really can't call yourself a card-carrying Southerner without knowing about Rock City. The "See Rock City" barns and birdhouses scattered across the South have touted the boulder garden atop Georgia's piece of Lookout Mountain since the 1930s.
Even though only 70 of the original 900 painted barns exist these days, Rock City Gardens still enchants in a big way. Ask owner Bill Chapin what the eighth wonder of the world is, and he'll quip, "Rock City," before you can say "See Seven States."
Bill, a gnomelike man with an impish grin, takes his stewardship of Rock City seriously. His great-uncle and -aunt Garnet and Frieda Carter started it all. While Garnet invented the world's first miniature golf course, his wife planted an ambitious garden. The golf didn't last, yet the fairy-tale attraction continues to thrive.
Much is the same here, but thankfully some things have changed. Most notably, you won't feel that you have to sleep in a barn or a birdhouse to stay on the mountain. The redesigned Chanticleer Inn beds you down in pure comfort. There's also a new view of an explorable golden maze of corn in the valley below.
Watching the Sunrise
Perched across the street from Rock City, ready to catch the sun's early light, Chanticleer Inn preens like a proud rooster. Just a couple of years ago the dilapidated motor court had degenerated into a flophouse. Then Bill; his wife, Joan; and their friends Chris and Susan Maclellan purchased the main house and its surrounding stone cottages to transform them into a charming inn.
The two couples called upon their love for mountain life when salvaging the storied inn. "It needed so much work," Susan says. "Rooms were $45 per night when we bought it."
They saved the solid cherry dressers original to each room and had new tops made. Susan and Joan scoured Atlanta's best antiques auctions for other furnishings. After adding exquisite linens, rooster-themed decor, and new plumbing and air-conditioning systems, they opened for business.
Like neighboring Rock City Gardens, Chanticleer is a family affair. Chris's mom lived in one of the cottages in the 1950s. Now Susan's parents, Judy and Kirby Wahl, serve as the genial innkeepers.
Breakfast and afternoon tea are special times here each day. Guests congregate in the remodeled main house's common room, where ceiling beams gathered from a 100-year-old barn were installed. The hosts serve beverages and home-baked goodies in the stunning surroundings.
Outside, mountain breezes stir rhododendrons that hug the patios, inviting you across the street to Rock City.
An Amazing Labyrinth
When you peer off Lover's Leap this fall, you'll spy an elaborate maze adjacent to a "See Rock City" barn and a pond shaped like the state of Georgia.
Opened last year, the Enchanted Maize Maze is the only corn labyrinth we know of that has a built-in view from 1,700 feet above. In addition to the 8-foot-tall convoluted rows of corn, Rock City's maze provides plenty of fall-themed activities. Tykes like the tractor-pulled hayride, followed by picking out a perfect pumpkin. There's even a small hay bale maze for toddlers. Bigger kids (and adults too) have fun shooting the corn cannon, which sends cobs flying toward a target.
The best part of the maze is the 1948 "See Rock City" barn. When its Whitfield County owners needed the land for other purposes, Bill bought the old building and moved it here to welcome guests with fast food and fun retail.
Take a bit of this Southern icon home with you. You really don't need a card to say you've been here, but a "See Rock City" birdhouse ($17.99) or a cap shaped like the fabled barn ($14.99) will do.
Rock City Gardens: (706) 820-2531 or www.seerockcity.com. Chanticleer Inn: (706) 820-2002 or www.stayatchanticleer.com. Rates: $99-$275, including full breakfast and afternoon tea. Enchanted Maize Maze: (706) 820-2531 or www.enchantedmaze.com.This article is from the September 2003 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.