Rock City Gardens | Fairyland Neighborhood
The businesses that employ members of your family. The scenic spots where you bring your out of town relatives. The route you ride your bike on Saturdays. The hospital that helped your kids get well. What these aspects of our daily lives have in common is that they were all made possible by people who founded not only some of Chattanooga’s most enduring businesses, but a large part of the makeup of our city as we know it today.
The men and women featured here didn’t just create profitable, lasting companies and institutions. They shaped the history, infrastructure, and culture of our city, overcoming challenges such as the Great Depression, personal illness, and shifting economies, to make a positive impact on the lives around them. They might not have known in the early years and the lean years if their businesses would survive, much less change the fate of the little boom town on the river. But by daring to start new business ventures, creating charitable organizations, opening tourist attractions, preserving land, and building iconic buildings, they became not just a part of Chattanooga’s history, but integral to its future.
By Meghan O’Dea
These days it seems like everyone has seen Rock City – the quirky attraction has even been featured in international best sellers like Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods.” Yet it started off as one of several improbable business ventures by Garnet and Frieda Carter.
The young couple will forever be remembered for shaping Lookout Mountain’s history with a mixture of ingenuity and imagination – and they were quite a team. Inspired by her love for German folklore and his interest in the Florida real estate boom, they were responsible for developing the popular Fairyland neighborhood on Lookout Mountain in the 1920s.
As startup pioneers, the Carters achieved many of their greatest successes out of false starts. When the full-sized golf course they had planned for met delays, they created the nation’s first mini-golf course (Tom Thumb Golf). After a stalled attempt in the hotel industry with the Fairyland Inn, they eventually developed the beautiful Lookout Mountain Fairyland Club.
Rock City might just be the best example of the Carters’ ability to turn lemons into lemonade with a mix of whimsy and business savvy. At first, the garden was simply a pet project for Frieda, a highly artistic and creative woman. But Garnet, an ambitious businessman, saw its public potential and set out to make it a popular attraction right in the heart of the Great Depression. One of his many brilliant ideas to advertise the attraction – and there were many – was to paint barns across the country in return for adding the words “See Rock City.”
“Garnet would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on creative advertising, but once people got there, he demanded that the experience exceeded customers’ expectations and they were treated as guests,” says Bill Chapin, the Carters great-nephew and the current chairman and CEO of Rock City. “He was fiercely competitive and determined to keep Rock City motivated and moving.
I think those things are still integral to Rock City’s success today. If you can’t keep growing on your ancestors legacy, you’ve got to build your own.”
To Read About More of Chattanooga’s Founding Fathers, click the following links: