‘See Rock City’ sign may get to stay in Cumming

After county cited Ben Morris for rooftop sign, commissioners want to reexamine law

Posted:

CUMMING, Ga. — Ben Morris is a history buff. So when his handyman found, under corrosion and rust, a historical “See Rock City” rooftop sign — Morris was overjoyed.

“It was like we’d found a treasure,” Morris said.

Morris reached out to the roadside attraction near Chattanooga, Tenn., on Lookout Mountain and asked what paint to purchase to revive the sign to its heyday.

But the newly renovated rooftop sign, at 1237 Atlanta Highway (Ga.9) in Cumming, adjacent to the Lakewood 400 Antiques Market, caught the eye of the Forsyth County’s code enforcement, which prohibits rooftop advertisement signs.

On April 3, Morris was cited and given 30 days to repaint the rooftop sign on his barn.

Morris refused and said he would rather go to jail and face the $1,000 fine than paint over the iconic sign.

He placed “Save our Barn” yard signs along Ga. 9, contacted news outlets and began a campaign calling the code enforcement “bureaucrats” who want to erase part of history.

Morris, who runs an internet-based car sales and leasing business, does have back up. From hundreds of supporters nationwide leaving comments on news sites and emailing county leaders, the tides have shifted in his favor.

On April 9, Forsyth County Commissioners discussed the issue at their work session. Although Morris faces a magistrate court judge on April 18, the county has asked code enforcement not to pursue further charges.

“I have talked to several people who remember a sign in that area on a barn years and years ago,” said Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills. “I believe he’s grandfathered-in.”

Chairman Pete Amos and the rest of the board agreed.

In addition to local support, Ga. Senate Bill 194, which passed by a 49 to 0 vote, provides an exemption for barns used to promote the state’s tourist destinations.

“Barns painted with ‘See Rock City’ have been a highway staple in Northwest Georgia since the Depression era,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga). “However, these historic structures are disappearing rapidly. I’m proud to have sponsored this bill to keep part of our state’s history alive.”

Under SB 194, a person would be allowed to use personal funds to restore and use a barn or other agriculture structure which was erected prior to 1965 and which previously promoted Georgia tourist destinations or products to the traveling public.

In 1935, the first “See Rock City” signs were painted on select barns. Usually, farmers who allowed their barns to be painted received free passes to Rock City as well as promotional materials such as thermometers and birdhouses.

Morris said he’s been overwhelmed by all the support from the community.

“I’m grateful for the citizens of this county for the support we’ve received to preserve our history.”

This article was published in the Forsyth Herald April 17, 2013 edition