A ruby falls sign on the side of a barn

Rediscovering the “See Ruby Falls” Barns of My Childhood

For as long as I can remember, I have loved going on drives. Whether a childhood trip to the beach, a teenage road trip with friends or a trip with my husband, the drive, not the destination, is what I anticipate most. There’s nothing like winding through picturesque southern highways with my favorite people surrounding me, blasting favorite songs on the radio, and talking about everything under the sun.

When returning from a road trip, the sights that told us we were almost home were the “See Ruby Falls” barns and signs dotting the highway. I recall being absolutely awe-struck seeing the ruby red barns and signs contrasted with the vivid summer greens of the rolling Tennessee mountains. These landmarks are associated with all of my favorite childhood memories. As I’ve grown older, I notice the barns less and less. Are the barns more rare or in my haste to get home, am I forgetting to soak in the life out the side window? It was time to find out.

I set out on my mission to find the Ruby Falls’ barns of my childhood. I made a goal to enjoy every second of the drive, just as I had when I was younger. I began on a sunny summer afternoon with nothing but the name of a highway in my hand and miles of endless possibility ahead of me. For some, travelling alone is a daunting task, but for me on this beautiful day, it was an opportunity to reignite the inner explorer inside of me.

The drive was absolutely breathtaking. There were rolling mountains, flowing brooks, and cows grazing in the fields; all things I wouldn’t have noticed if I had been rushing to the destination. I crossed into Georgia for a brief moment then into Alabama, visiting three states in the span of an hour. Finally, I came upon the highway I thought was the right one.

After driving on this highway for about 30 minutes without finding the barn, I became a little discouraged for various reasons. For starters, cell service is spotty on Alabama backroads, making it nearly impossible for my gps app to see where I needed to be. To add to the discouragement, I was running low on gas and hadn’t eaten since that morning. A quick pit stop at a gas station proved to be the best remedy. A full tank of gas, enough of a cell signal to get me on the right track, and a bag of gummy worms (an essential road trip snack) can do wonders for this disheartened traveler.

I was on the old AL-277 in no time. When I finally came upon the barn, it was as if I had traveled back in time. I was suddenly in a booster seat between my two older brothers, chomping on goldfish rather than gummy worms, listening to my parents discuss the best route to get home. The barn was a stunning sight. Tucked in the corner of a big field, right next to a pale yellow farmhouse, yet nothing about the barn seemed aged. It’s timeless red paint and bold “Ruby Falls on Lookout Mtn.” message was in brilliant white across the entirety of the barn.

To say I was thrilled to find this barn is an understatement. There were a few bumps in the road getting there, but this journey can easily be applied to life… there will always be unexpected setbacks along the way. No matter how much we prepare, the bumps will always be there to surprise us. I could have turned around when I got lost, I could have given up, but I didn’t. And because I didn’t, I rediscovered the inner explorer in me that had gotten lost so many years before, thanks to Ruby Falls.


Katherine Ward

Guest Blogger and Chattanooga Native