Friday, June 5, 2020

Backroads Treasures

Gray's Mill, Graysville, Georgia
Sadly, destroyed by a fire set by vandals.
Rolleicord Vb, Ektachrome

One of the things I most like to do is wander backroads, just looking for whatever I can find to photograph. This interest began early on, shortly after we moved from Miami to a suburb of Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1970. Our home was just a mile or so from the Tennessee-Georgia line, so I spent many Sunday afternoons wandering the north Georgia backroads, of which there were many, with my camera.

My interest was kicked into high gear in 1994, when Rock City Gardens, a tourist attraction on the cliffs of Lookout Mountain overlooking Chattanooga, commissioned me to find and photograph every still-existing barn which had carried their advertising slogan “See Rock City.”

The painted barns had been Rock City’s principal advertising device from the late 1930s well into the ‘60s. No one knows for sure, but it’s estimated that “See Rock City” was painted on more than 800 barns in at least 17 states in the South and Midwest. Most of these were on routes that were major highways at the time, but with the coming of the Interstate system, were now backroads.

Rock City Barn
U.S. Hwy. 41 near Pembroke, Kentucky
Olympus OM2n, 24mm f2.8 Zuiko lens, Kodachrome 64
Rock City gave me what they had of the old records used by the barn painters. I sorted them by states and highways, and in October, 1994, hit the road in my old Chevy Blazer. Over the next year and a half, whenever I could steal a few days away from my studio, I traveled 35,000 miles, visited more than 500 sites, and found and photographed 250 still-standing barns (although some of them were just barely standing). They were published in 1996 in a coffee-table book titled Rock City Barns:A Passing Era, which sold more than 29,000 copies.

I continued my backroads wanderings as I had time, mostly in Georgia, which is a fascinating state, and in 2011 completed Georgia: A Backroads Portrait. It currently exists as a self-published book on, but I’m still looking for a publisher to take it on. Realistically, it’s a large-format book and will not be cheap to publish. But one can hope.

Old Mount Zion Baptist Church
U.S. Hwy. 41, Dooly County, Georgia
Canon EOS 5D, 24-85mm f3.5-4.5 Canon EF lens, Fujichrome 100

However, the editor at Countryman Press saw it, and in 2015 asked me to do a smaller format book which was published in 2017 as Backroads and Byways of Georgia.

I’m not working on a book right now, as we are busy getting our home and property ready to sell so we can downsize to something more appropriate to our ages. But I have an offer on the table from Countryman Press to do Backroads and Byways of Tennessee, so who knows what the future holds. Meanwhile, whenever I can steal a little time now and then, I keep looking for those backroads treasures.

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo
To the glory of God alone

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